Niles law enforcement holds Q&A with community
Published 9:20 am Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Law enforcement leaders serving the Niles area spent more than an hour and a half answering questions from residents during an informal community forum Monday organized by Niles Councilwoman Georgia Boggs.
Questions, which ranged widely from race relations to the use of armored vehicles, were fielded by Niles Police Chief Jim Millin, Michigan State Police Niles Post Commander Mike Dawson, Berrien County Sheriff L. Paul Bailey, Berrien County Sheriff Capt. Robert Boyce, Berrien County Sheriff Lt. Trent Babcock and MSP Community Service Trooper Maurice Burton.
Below is a summary of some of the questions asked at the meeting, which was held in the Niles Council Chambers. About 40 people were in attendance.
Q: What statistics do you keep for arrests/traffic stops based on race?
While officers said they don’t track of traffic stops by the race of those who were stopped, Bailey read statistics for people, classified by race, that were booked into the Berrien County Jail each year since 2011.
• 2011 — 2,176 African Americans, 1,994 Caucasians, 47 Hispanics and 105 other
• 2012 — 2,319 Caucasians, 2,211 African Americans, 41 Hispanics and 89 other
• 2013 — 2,274 Caucasians, 2,177 African Americans, 32 Hispanics and 87 other
• 2014 — 1,991 Caucasians, 1,879 African Americans, 16 Hispanics and 93 other
Q: How many African Americans are on the Niles Police Department’s force?
Millin said his department currently has no African American police officers, but it does employ three female officers.
It is difficult, he said, to attract minority candidates and qualified candidates, in general, due to competition with larger police forces, such as in Detroit.
“It is not for lack of trying,” Millin said.
Q: What is the process for filing a complaint against an officer?
Millin, and the other police leaders, urged anyone who thinks they have been treated unfairly to contact the proper law enforcement agency as soon as possible.
Dawson said it is easier for police to investigate when complaints are made in a timely manner because evidence — such as in-car video — is not available forever.
Boyce said, contrary to what some people think, law enforcement agencies don’t sweep complaints made against their officers under the rug.
“Nobody wants a bad apple out there working for you,” he said.
Q: Are police liable for damage caused during the execution of a warrant?
Boyce said police do not have to pay for damage, such a broken door or table, as long as they are acting responsibly during the execution of a search warrant.
However, if police break a television or another item during a peaceful surrender, they would likely have to pay for it.
Q: What is the response time after someone reports a suspicious vehicle?
Millin said his department responds to calls as quickly as possible and that some calls take priority over others.
“Depending on what is going on response time might vary,” from a couple minutes to an hour, he said
Q: What is law enforcement doing to decrease the likelihood of a Ferguson, Missouri situation from happening in Niles?
Dawson said members of the local Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust (ALPACT) spent a lot of time talking about Ferguson last year and how it relates to southwest Michigan.
He said his department, and other law enforcement agencies, perform youth outreach programs, such as sending community service troopers to schools, and are in close contact with influential community members.
Boyce said a number of his deputies volunteer as coaches for youth leagues — another example of police increasing community relations.
Millin cautioned citizens not to jump to conclusions after an incident for fear of spreading incorrect or incomplete information that could lead to negative outcomes, such as riots. Police, he said, oftentimes aren’t allowed to release all the information about a case because it might jeopardize the investigation or the perpetrator’s right to a fair trial.
Millin also said his department maintains a good relationship with the Niles community.
“We are not Ferguson,” he said.
Law enforcement leaders mentioned that they do extensive background checks on potential hires and that their employees undergo lots of training, including in cultural diversity.
Q: Why do you use armored vehicles?
Bailey said the sheriff’s department’s tactical unit uses a “Bearcat” armored vehicle during the execution of high-risk warrants, such as an active shooter situation or when a suspect is believed to be armed and dangerous.
The “Bearcat” allows police to get close to a home or building while reducing the risk of being shot.
Q: How many young people are repeat offenders and what do you do to keep them from reoffending?
Bailey said most offenders have a drug or alcohol problem that is causing them to steal or break other laws in order to feed their habit. The court system offers drug and alcohol treatment programs designed to help these offenders get clean.
“If we don’t address their drug problem they are coming back,” he said, adding that they do see a lot of repeat offenders because addiction is difficult to treat.
At the end of the question and answer session, Millin encouraged people to submit tips anonymously through tipsoft.com.
He also said people can view a map of where crime has occurred in the Niles area at crimereports.com.