Living in Pontiac, Mi., is “like living in Iraq,” Larry Trammell, 54, tells the Detroit Free Press in describing gunshots ringing out day and night and police helicopters buzzing overhead. “I even fear for my life when I’m mowing my lawn.” There have been 20 homicides in the city this year, surpassing the city’s 2007 total of 17. The increased violence is caused in part by cuts to the city’s police department, officials say. Only 65 officers protect the city of 66,000 residents, down from 170 officers four years ago, when the population was roughly the same.
Those cuts, combined with the closure of three community centers and a 20 percent unemployment rate, have bred an atmosphere of criminal opportunity, said residents and community leaders. The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and Michigan State Police help the city with crime scene investigations, traffic control and drug arrests, but it’s not enough to stem the violence. Just four years ago, city leaders celebrated the city’s lowest homicide total in 40 years. There were only three homicides in 2004. That year, the department had an $18-million budget. This year, it was $10.5 million and the city fought a $6.5-million deficit in the $57-million general fund budget. There are only four detectives — the department had 21 10 years ago. The popular community policing programs that helped build trust among residents are gone. Pontiac handles about 70,000 service calls a year.