State police: ‘We’re not out to write tickets’ on Belle Isle
City officials asked the Michigan State Police today to increase efforts to ensure Detroit residents feel welcome on Belle Isle after numerous complaints of heavy-handed policing by troopers in recent months.
State Police Captain Monica Yesh told Detroit City Council that 671 traffic stops have been performed from Feb. 1 to May 25 on the island, of which 614 received verbal warnings. As of May 25, the department has arrested 14 felons, as well as 61 fugitives with outstanding warrants, she said.
“While we’re educating [residents], we do find them with warrants,” Yesh said. “If you do have warrants, you’re probably going to get arrested.”
The majority of the 70 citations issued by troopers were for speeding or other moving violations, she said. The speed-limit on the island is 25 miles-per-hour, Yesh noted, and signs around the island currently identifying the limit at 20 miles-per-hour will soon be replaced by the Michigan Department of Transportation.
“So we’re not out there to write tickets,” Yesh said. “We’re out there to change driver behavior.”
Under an order signed by Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr earlier this year, the 982-acre Belle Isle became Michigan’s 102nd state park. The city will lease the park to the state for 30 years, with two optional 15-year extensions.
Yesh also said a bike patrol unit would soon be implemented, where two troopers will patrol the island from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and take “an active role on Belle Isle.” The bicycles are expected to arrive Friday, she said.
The program is “to make sure the public can see us, that we’re visible,” Yesh said of the bike program. State police currently have 46 troopers working in the city of Detroit, with 13 on the island.
City Council President Brenda Jones made note of the island’s drop in attendance since the state takeover, adding it was most obvious on Memorial Day. “There is still some uneasiness,” she said.
State Lieutenant Robert Hendrix, commander of the Belle Isle detail, said he believes attendance is down because of the $11 yearly recreation passport motorists need to visit state parks. In the case of Belle Isle, the state is currently phasing in the passport throughout 2014, requiring the fee only when the license plate registration expires. By February 2015, all motorists will need a passport. The park is still free for pedestrians and cyclists.
“I’ve really only had a lot of positive feedback from residents I’ve come in contact with,” Hendrix said after MSP’s presentation.
City Clerk Janice Winfrey was also present at the meeting. In April, Winfrey said she was pulled over for speeding, and was told by the responding trooper that he was trying to keep the “riff-raff” off Belle Isle. The incident sparked an intense debate over the state’s patrol of the island.
Yesh said the incident was investigated and the trooper’s was reassigned without any disciplinary action, as his temporary six-week assignment on the island lapsed. Each trooper is put through cultural diversity training before they begin their detail, she said.
Nonetheless, Winfrey said she hasn’t visited Belle Isle since she was pulled over, and has told her children to stay off the island for now.
“I”m not feeling comfortable about it,” she said. Winfrey asked the state police to pursue more outreach programs to educate residents of the MSP’s Belle Isle patrols.
Yesh said, “That’s what we’re trying to do … we’re trying to make them feel like they’re in the community. It’s not heavy-handedness.”
The stats presented by Yesh only reflected the Michigan State Police’s data and do not include numbers from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which also has conservation officers policing the island.