By Jessica Mathews & Jon King /

A former sheriff turned local lawmaker helped to unveil a new $80 (m) million, GOP-led House plan to support law enforcement officers and help recruit and retain officers at a time the profession has been “beaten down” by anti-police sentiment.

Republican State Representative Bob Bezotte of Marion Township, the former Livingston County sheriff, took part in a news conference with legislators and police officers Thursday to announce a “Stronger Support for Safer Communities” plan. It comes amid calls for police reform and a national debate over deadly force. The plan has three main focal points: retaining officers, attracting recruits and expanding community resources. Some of the measures include mental health support, signing bonuses to attract qualified candidates, community policing, and more support for officers during training.

Bezotte told WHMI the training, retention and recruiting components are extremely vital right now. He says they can’t get people to come into the field because of all of the national negativity but they need law enforcement officers out there to protect communities. Bezotte noted that there are thousands and thousands of police contacts made on daily basis and 99% are positive. Having done the job for 33 years serving as a corrections officer, deputy, lieutenant, undersheriff and sheriff; Bezotte says he knows what’s out there and the men and women do a fantastic job.

Bezotte commented that many get into police work because they want to protect their communities and stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves. He said 99% of those in law enforcement want to do a good job and it’s a calling. Bezotte acknowledged that there are some people out there who shouldn’t be in law enforcement but said to cherry pick situations around the country and say there’s an issue with law enforcement is not fair to the men and women in uniform. He said it’s a difficult job and they’re making split-second decisions based on their training and experience in law enforcement.

Bezotte added that Livingston County is very fortunate to have great departments and everyone works well together, adding that larger departments with hundreds of officers can be tougher to manage.

Bezotte’s measure included in the House plan earmarks $10 (m) million for body cameras, which he clarified will not be mandatory and left up to departments to decide. He believes the equipment will be an improvement for public safety and law enforcement. Smaller police departments that want to utilize the technology do not always have funding to obtain them thus the bill would offer the necessary resources for law enforcement agencies looking to utilize body cameras.

Other bill sponsors include Reps. Thomas Albert, David Martin, Timothy Beson, Ryan Berman, John Roth, TC Clements, and Mike Mueller. Livingston County Sheriff Michael Murphy also participated in the news conference.

Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy said on behalf of Livingston County law enforcement officers, he’s proud to back these measures. He commented that hiring and retaining qualified officers is a real problem across the state and he believes the policy-based changes will increase the availability of crucial resources and support for the men and women in uniform, ensuring safer communities along the way.

The proposed spending was added to a supplemental budget bill that was approved by the GOP-led House and sent to the Republican-controlled Senate. Other statutory changes, including future reforms still being developed, will be introduced and discussed in committee in the near future.

House Democrats said the plan would not spend enough, calling it a “cheap knock-off” of changes they have suggested. They unsuccessfully offered amendments, including one they said would ensure every state trooper is outfitted with a body camera.

“We need these improvements, not only for the betterment of our officers but to rebuild broken trust with the public,” said Rep. Tyrone Carter of Detroit, a retired sheriff’s deputy.

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with these supplemental dollars and, instead of choosing to support Democratic amendments, that would truly put these dollars in the hands of our communities, they are passing half-measures,” said House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski of Washtenaw County’s Scio Township.

But House Speaker Jason Wentworth of Farwell said he expects legislators to look at long-term recruitment and other spending, not just one-time outlays.

“We’re going to continue this investment as we go forward, not just in the budget but in legislative changes as well,” he said.

Photo - State Rep. Bob Bezotte & Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy