Lansing Mayor Andy Schor is giving the cold shoulder to the $71 million millage proposal to build a new Ingham County jail that will be on the August ballot.
That’s because Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth is saying no to the Schor administration’s wish to have the county build and run the city’s lockup facility to replace the aging jail in City Hall.
The future of the holding facility, along with the location of the courts, is delaying plans to sell the City Hall building for hotel development and move city operations elsewhere downtown. The courts are also housed in City Hall. Schor had been hoping to use some of the countywide millage money to offset the cost of building and staffing a new lockup.
In an email Wriggelsworth sent Ingham County commissioners last week, the sheriff characterized the proposal to have the county take over lockup operations as a win for the city but not for the county.
“I am NOT interested in taking over/ contracting with the City of Lansing to run their detention facility 24/7/365,” Wriggelsworth wrote. “All county law enforcement agencies have one they can use anytime they want — the Ingham County jail.”
Asked for reaction, Schor said Sunday that is “not getting involved” in the millage campaign, which will be on the Aug. 5 primary election. “I won’t take an official position.”
Wriggelsworth shot back, “Life’s full of choices, he’s making one.”
Without Schor’s support, the millage could face a uphill fight. Lansing represents more than half of the voting population of the county. Schor won the Mayor’s Office in November with 12,407 votes to former City Councilwoman Judi Brown Clarke’s 4,804 votes. He’s widely seen as wielding a great deal of good will and political capital.
Third Ward Councilman Adam Hussain said he is unlikely to “knock doors” or use his political power base in the city’s southwest side to push the millage.
“Probably not,” he said when asked if he would work for the millage. He said he still wanted to better understand the full proposal, but if he were asked today to work for it, it would be unlikely to happen.
“No at this point,” he said. “We need to figure out what the heck we’re doing as a city, something that’s practical.”
Council President Carol Wood said she would work for the millage, while Council colleague Peter Spadafore said he hoped the city and county could find a mutual solution and avoid a fight.
The previous administration, led by Mayor Virg Bernero, announced plans a year ago to sell City Hall to a Chicagobased developer, Beitler Real Estate, who would repurpose it as a hotel. Under the Bernero plan, the city’s main functions would move to the former Lansing State Journal building, on Lenawee Street. But the 54-A District Court, police administration offices and lockup facility were homeless under the plan.
As a result, Schor announced in March that the pending sale and development deal was on pause while he tried to work out a way to consolidate Lansing’s 54-A and East Lansing’s 54-B District courts as well as a lockup facility, possibly in an expanded Veterans Memorial Courthouse on Kalamazoo Street.
The city can house arrestees in the county jail in Mason, but Schor and Hussain, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said doing so was untenable.
Driving arrestees to Mason would take the city’s already reduced police staffing off the road for a significant amount of time, they said.
“We are struggling mightily with some of our own personnel issues to make sure there are enough officers on the road.” Hussain said. “If you start taking officers off the road for 40 or 50 minutes at a time, that exacerbates everything we’re already dealing with.”
Wriggelsworth acknowledged this in his email to county elected leaders.
“I know the main downside is ‘drive time’ here, taking cops off the streets, especially in Lansing/East Lansing where they have too few cops as it is, legit concern,” he wrote. “Other counties seem to utilize this option just fine.”
Wriggelsworth said he would be open to Lansing’s building and operating a day lockup facility, with prisoners being transported to Mason in the evenings. That would also mean that all arrestees on weekends, nights and holidays would have to be transported to Mason.
Hussain noted that on any given night no more than a dozen officers are patrolling the city, dashing from one priority call to another.
“We already are left in situations where officers are responding to a major situation in one sector of the city, and that leaves the three others sectors without officers,” he said. “That means things get missed, or left.”
For instance, on Sunday around 3:45 a.m., the neighborhood at Pine and Saginaw streets erupted with gunfire. Schor said there were 10 calls to 9-1-1, but the first officers did not report on scene until eight minutes after the first call. By that time, a crowd of 25 to 30 party goers and a half dozen vehicles had left the scene. Officers found shell casings and talked to a resident in the 600 block of North Pine, but no arrests were made.
“We’re hearing about this more and more and more,” said Hussain.
The sheriff indicated in a phone interview he’d be willing to explore something like an arrest bus to transport arrestees.
“That could reduce the amount of time officers are out of service,” he noted. “They’d still have to wait until the prisoner was picked up, but they could get back in service faster.”
Hussain said he would consider such an option, which he said was a new proposal.
The county has used arrest buses in the past, but for special events such as parties at Michigan State University that have turned unruly or protests at the Capitol. Other communities use arrest vans to transport arrestees, keeping the officers on the streets rather than being tied up transporting them to a central facility.
Schor noted that Lansing is the only state capital that does not also double as the county seat. Because of that quirk, locating the county operations in Mason, 20 miles south of Lansing, has been an ongoing issue.
“Look, this is one piece of the puzzle that’s off the table,” Schor said. “We will look at what the other options are, and we will come back with something that will work best for the city and our residents.”