Breaking news … Since this story was published on Friday, according to police sources, a driver has been ticketed for possibly speeding or reckless driving near Pulaski Park, and his Dodge Charger has been impounded. Police are not releasing details of the incident, and say it is still under investigation. More information is expected to be available on Monday.
By Charles Sercombe
Local TV news cameras were focused on the streets surrounding Pulaski Park this week.
Neighbors have been complaining about young drivers speeding down the one-way streets surrounding the park, and one Norwalk resident even caught a driver burning his tires at the intersection of Norwalk and Lumpkin.
“The police have been almost completely absent from patrolling the park this year, it’s ridiculous. I’m sure they’ll be around plenty after someone is killed,” said Catherine Roach on her Facebook page after submitting a recording of speeders and reckless drivers to WXYZ Channel 7 news.
The concern is that a child will be hit by one of the drivers. Pulaski Park is packed with kids and families in the early evening. That’s when teenage boys and older males congregate at the Norwalk and Lumpkin corner.
The Review spent an evening witnessing the goings-on, and indeed there were speeding drivers and a group of youths at the intersection. Often the youths would shout out “F— you” to no one in particular, and in other instances cars with young males would drive by with passengers giving the finger to those at the intersection.
One neighbor who declined to be identified said the situation was “out of control.”
Many, like Roach, are wondering why there isn’t a greater police presence. That includes Councilmember Saad Almasmari, who wrote on his Facebook page:
“This must to stop. We all should report anything like that. And HPD (Hamtramck Police Department) should do their job and take it serious. Too many people complain about HPD not doing very good,” Almasmari said.
On Tuesday, the day after Channel 7 ran its story, a Hamtramck officer was on Norwalk, waiting with a radar gun to catch speeders. He said he planned to be there all week, working overtime in the traffic enforcement program that allows officers to work up to 20 hours per pay period.
The reason why there aren’t more officers on the road is complicated. The short answer is that the department is understaffed and keeps losing officers to better paying jobs in other cities.
The city administration has asked The Review to not publish how many patrol cars are on duty throughout the day, but many in the community already know it’s a low number.
How did it get that way?
It goes back about five years ago when the state declared the city was in a financial crisis and appointed an emergency manager to take over. That manager, Cathy Square, took a knife to the Police Department’s budget and eliminated about 10 officers, despite protests by former Police Chief Max Garbarino.
Needless to say, the two continued to clash over cuts.
“I told her we wouldn’t be able to function,” Garbarino told The Review.
Square didn’t stop there. She also got salary and benefit cuts in both the police and fire departments.
Officers lost about 25 percent of their salaries and benefits.
“That devastated the department,” Garbarino said.
After that, he said, it was hard to retain officers.
“No one wanted to stay, and no one wanted to come to the department,” he said.
When Square left and former City Manager Katrina Powell took over, it didn’t get any better.
“My pleas for more officers fell on deaf ears,” Garbarino said.
To her defense, Powell was constrained on spending, especially overtime for the police and fire departments, by the state-appointed Receivership Transition Advisory Board.
The department continues to have difficulty in retaining officers. A few months ago the department was five officers short. New ones have since been hired, but it takes a few months to train them within the department.
Police officers are currently working with an expired contract. No new negotiations will take place until the city hires a permanent city manager, which could take several more months.
In the meantime, Pulaski Park is by no means the only area that attracts reckless drivers. Gallagher has long been a hot spot for speeders, and a resident on Roosevelt, Ilene Andrus, told The Review her block is menaced by speeders.
“It’s the same guys,” she said.
While the city is strapped financially, there is one alternative. Several months ago the state announced it would send extra patrols of state police officers to Hamtramck.
Initially, they made their presence known, but lately, state troopers have not been seen so much.
Acting City Manager Kathy Angerer said she is going to call the state to get more state troopers assigned here.