Families & Community
6:00 am
Wed August 21, 2013

Police set up more patrols in Muskegon, some residents say it's not enough

Last week, we ran a series of stories about a gun battle in Muskegon, and how some rising crime trends are affecting neighborhoods in the city.

And there’s one part of that story we didn’t get to last week.

It’s the role of police in trying to solve the city’s crime problem. Here, then, is a follow-up. 

The orange paint marks where one shooter stood during a gunfight last month in Muskegon. Three children were on the porch in the background, one of them is the daughter of Jim and Shannon Ridge. Their son was just inside the door.
Credit Dustin Dwyer

Jim and Shannon Ridge have two kids who were nearby when a gun fight broke out on Monroe Avenue in Muskegon last month.

Gun battles don’t happen a lot in their neighborhood.

But other crimes do.

Shannon Ridge says drug dealing happens in the open.

"And if you’re standing outside, like, on the weekend, Friday night, you’re just standing out with the kids, they’ll be standing right here at the corner, 'I got narcos for sale, I got narcos for sale!'" Ridge says.

Shannon and her husband Jim both believe the police don’t do enough to stop it.

"Cops don’t even do nothing about it," Shannon Ridge says. "And the cops come through. They just hit their little siren … and they [the drug dealers] … spread like cockroaches."

"Yeah, they just push them further down another part of the neighborhood, that’s all," says Jim Ridge.

"And then they’ll wait about an hour and they’ll come back<" Shannon Ridge says. "And they’ll start all over again."

This means that for the Ridges, and other families in the neighborhood, their children are constantly exposed to crime.  What they’d like to see is more police in the neighborhood, on foot instead of in cars.  

"Well, obviously, I mean a foot patrol can be very effective, says Jeffrey Lewis, Muskegon’s Director of Public Safety.

"Right now a lot of agencies like us are suffering from, not reduced staff, but we’d like to have more staffing," Lewis says.

According to FBI statistics, Muskegon is actually better staffed than many police departments in the state. If you look at the number of uniformed officers per 1,000 residents, Muskegon does better than Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, Jackson, Holland and plenty of other cities.

But Lewis says it’s still not enough staffing to do foot patrols in high crime neighborhoods.

In June, the department started a new strategy called High Intensity Patrols. Lewis says Muskegon Police coordinate with the State Police, the County Sheriff and the police in neighboring Muskegon Heights to send more patrol cars into high-crime areas.

"When we have those cars in that area and people see those, it’s obvious, the calls don’t come in," Lewis says. "And if one comes in in a close by area, we have more of an immediate response which gives us a better advantage in actually catching the perpetrator and prosecuting them."

Another strategy for the Muskegon Police is to have neighborhood officers, who are in the neighborhood, getting to know people even when crime isn’t happening.

But that too has its challenges.

Eric Hood was an officer with the Muskegon Police Department for 20 years. He was a neighborhood officer in one of the city’s high crime neighborhoods. He retired in 2008. Now he’s a city commissioner.

I asked Hood, point blank, if he thinks the Muskegon Police is doing a good job now with community policing in the high crime neighborhoods. 

"I can’t honestly answer that question," Hood says. "Do I think there’s room for improvement? Yes."

Hood says he supports Jeffrey Lewis, the Director of Public Safety. And overall, he thinks the Department is doing a good job responding to crime in the city.

But he says police in Muskegon could do a better job working with residents

And one area where the department needs to improve is in diversity.

"One problem that we have is that there’s only one African-American officer in the whole city of Muskegon," Hood says. "And that doesn’t reflect the population."

About 35 percent of the residents in Muskegon are black. Only one percent of uniformed police officers in the city are black.

Even Jeffrey Lewis, the head of the Public Safety Department, isn’t satisfied with that. 

"I’ll live and die by the fact that the police department should represent the community," he says. "Our department should look like the community."

Right now it doesn’t. Nor does it have the staffing to be in the community more. At least according to Lewis.

So for now, the strategy is to try to have patrol cars in the right place at the right time.