By Paul Egan
The director of the Michigan State Police, preparing to recruit significant numbers of troopers for the first time in decades, is putting out a welcome mat for veterans returning from military duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“If you ever go through a recruit school, you can always tell those that have been in the military,” Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue told the Free Press in an interview.
“They know how to march, they know how to shine their shoes and they have that whole demeanor that’s already ingrained in them.”
Trooper numbers are as low as they have been since the 1960s, but with Gov. Rick Snyder’s new public safety emphasis and an infusion of cash in his recent budget, Etue said she hopes to recruit and train as many as 400 new troopers in the near future. She wants to spread the word to an estimated 3,000 returning Michigan veterans “and see how many we could maybe grab onto.”
The first woman to head the State Police, Etue is the daughter of a former trooper who told her no woman should ever be a cop. She changed his mind and now is winning over skeptics as she closes dozens of State Police posts to put more officers and money onto Michigan’s highways and into crime hot spots.
Etue won a recommended 16% budget boost in the budget Snyder released Feb. 9, but things didn’t start out that way for her and the governor.
Soon after she took office in January 2011, Snyder asked for a 2.1% funding cut for the State Police, requiring cuts of more than $11 million.
It was one more in a series of cuts that saw uniformed trooper strength drop 30%, to 947 this year from 1,350 in 2000.
Though close to 90% of the department’s budget is payroll, “the last thing I wanted to do was cut our trooper strength,” Etue said.
Instead, she saved on real estate, closing 33 of the department’s 62 posts, many of which were leased.
“That building will never save a life, but the troopers out in your community, we’re convinced, can save a life,” she said.
She sent about 100 desk sergeants back onto roads, where she said their visibility alone helps reduce crime and freeway speeds.
Scout cars, which already had computers, had printers and other features added.
Phillip Schertzing, an academic specialist in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University, said economics accelerated changes that in many ways made sense. Advances in technology were one factor. Also, State Police posts used to dispatch and provide Breathalyzers and other services for many local police forces, but that’s changed, he said.
The closures alarmed some local officials but also brought support from sheriffs, local police forces, township supervisors and others who offered free use of their facilities as 58 “detachments” where newly mobile troopers could begin and end their workdays.