A decorated officer at the Lansing Police Department is speaking out against a recent proposal that would halve his department’s budget by 2025. The “rampant racial hysteria” driving the push for reforms simply doesn’t exist in Lansing, he said.
“Something is broken. Something isn’t working. I know there are national examples of shitty police work,” said John Cosme, a 22-year LPD veteran, named Lansing “Officer of the Year” in 2016. “I just don’t see those national examples taking place in our community. At the end of the day, this rampant racial hysteria driving this whole conversation just doesn’t exist in Lansing.”
Cosme, said he was speaking without permission from Police Department. He sent a seven-page letter to City Pulse last week that rebutted a recent proposal from Councilman Brandon Betz and local Black Lives Matter activists to slash Police Department funding by 20% in 2021 and halve it by 2025.
Cosme’s goal: Reset the local narrative surrounding recent social unrest. Officers in Lansing don’t have the same institutional problems as places like Minneapolis and plans that would kowtow to national demands for reforms are largely unnecessary at LPD, Cosme contended.
“I just know our training has been substantially reduced over the last five years because of these budget constraints,” Cosme added. “I also know that without proper funding, this department and this city will suffer, and that will have a real impact on the citizens of Lansing.”
Earlier this year, Betz stood alongside Black community leaders outside Lansing City Hall and introduced a proposal that aims to launch a Council committee that would redirect half the police budget into social equity programs over the next five years, cleaving LPD’s total budget by $23 million.
Cosme argued that LPD’s budget, if anything, should see an increase to allow for additional training for his colleagues. Lansing officers already adhere to progressive standards and policies, wear body cameras and are held accountable through a complaint system, he said.
A “knee-jerk reaction” like defunding the Police Department “to satisfy misinformed bullies” is neither prudent or fair, Cosme wrote in his letter. LPD cannot operate at its current standards with a 50% budget cut and it “should be embarrassing for anyone supporting the idea,” he said.
Betz contends that local Black communities have been “victimized” by police violence for years in Lansing. It’s not time for “half-measures or small reforms” like more simple training, he said. “We have to stand for justice and fundamentally change the way we think about public safety.”
In nearly 28,000 traffic stops in Lansing over the last three years, about 33% of drivers were Black, statistics showed. They were also about three times more likely to be searched or arrested compared to white drivers in the capital city. Betz wants to curb that statistical bias.
Cosme, who is Puerto Rican, argues that communities of color face more socio-economic challenges in Lansing, which inherently leads to a higher rate of criminal activity. That doesn’t mean local cops are targeting Black people. He doesn’t have a “race radar detector,” he said.
Betz’ proposed committee would also be designed to issue recommendations on how to administer public safety with the reduced funding levels by assembling a report by February. Police officers nationwide have been expected to fill the void created by ever-shrinking mental health services. Studies show that up to 20% of police encounters involve mental health or substance abuse issues. Betz’ proposal aims to unbundle those services from law enforcement.
But with about 80% of LPD’s annual budget heading directly to payroll and benefits, that means many local cops will invariably be out of a job over the next five years. And Cosme said that’s a risk the city cannot afford to take — if only for the sake of public safety in local neighborhoods.
LPD officials said every officer-involved shooting over the last 29 years has been justified and involved the other party being armed with some type of weapon. There has also been no documented and verified instances of excessive force at the hands of local cops in 22 years.
(Cosme is on administrative leave with five other Lansing police officers and a sergeant while the Michigan State Police investigate their role in a May 26 fatal shooting on Walnut Street. Such suspensions and investigations are routine in fatal incidents.)
Cosme said the city’s Violent Crime Impact Team have also seized a total of almost 400 firearms over the last six years. A funding reduction could be those efforts in jeopardy, he said.
“LPD does not deserve to be judged by the mistakes of any other agency in this country,” Cosme said, urging residents to “slow down and take a deep breath” before defunding anything.
Police Chief Daryl Green rolled out at least two noteworthy policy reforms in the wake of recent social unrest. Local cops will no longer pull over drivers for minor infractions like broken taillights in an effort to curb unnecessary police contact. No-knock warrants have also been banned.
But with secondary equipment violations only accounting for about 15% of traffic stops, and only three no-knock warrants included among 284 searches conducted over the last five years, some have questioned whether the so-called reforms are actually geared toward meaningful changes.
“At the end of the day, we’re all going to be held accountable because we have our body-worn cameras on all the time anyway,” Cosme added. “We also have a complaint process in place. I don’t think the idea of less contact with the community necessarily changes a whole lot here.”
“If there are discussions on where we can cut the fat, then let’s cut it,” he said. “If we can get rid of these traffic stops, fine. If our tactical guys lose the ability with warrants, sure. To me, that all shows progress and that we’re all open and willing to communicate. We just also need to be careful to understand what’s actually effective and impactful for our specific police department.”
Cosme also told City Pulse there had been a “dramatic” increase in 911 calls for gunshots this year to stress the importance of police funding. Records show LPD tracked 205 “shots fired” incidents in 2020, only a slight uptick from 196 of those calls reported at this time last year.
“I’m a big fan of the family concept,” Cosme added. “If our families work, then our communities work. If you come from a strong family, you’re less likely to get involved in things that invite law enforcement in your life. I can’t agree with some of the other narratives being thrown around.”
Betz said Cosme does not speak for the residents who have experienced harassment, violence and racism at the hands of police. Endlessly increasing police budgets will not reduce police violence, end the school-to-prison pipeline or protect local citizens, he said in response.
“We, the residents of Lansing, have a choice to make,” Betz said in a written statement.
“We can choose to live in fear and use police as a weapon to suppress the lives of Black and brown people or we can choose to invest in our communities to weaken the root causes of poverty and crime while maintaining more effective public safety measures,” Betz explained. “Our resolution will start the critical work of looking into the real numbers and centering the voices of Black and brown communities so we can transform public safety in Lansing.”
Cosme said Betz thrives on “emotional rhetoric” to promote his own political agenda.
“He likes to say things that put people into an emotional quicksand. He’s using his platform to scare people into this racial hysteria. I don’t trust someone’s intentions are fair when there is so much emotional crap attached to it,” Cosme added. “If he was on my football team, I’d tell him to stand in line or sit on the bench. You know? This rookie isn’t going to get the ball for this game.”
City officials and other Council members have been hesitant to make any cuts to the Police Department budget. The concept wasn’t even mentioned when the latest budget passed in May. Betz said he only recently became aware of the pressing need for financial reforms at LPD.
Mayor Andy Schor’s “Racial Justice and Equity Community Action” plan — a work in progress — aims to eventually hire a diversity officer and create a more detailed plan on any funding adjustments.
Betz said the results and recommendations that eventually come from his recently proposed ad-hoc committee on police divestment would still almost entirely rely on Schor’s office to weave them into a working budget proposal for the next fiscal year. Schor has made no commitments.
A series of virtual community meetings on racial justice, social equity and Lansing Police Department funding designed to collect public feedback begins this week with an online meeting from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 23. Future meetings are also slated for Aug. 6 and 20.
Click here to read John Cosme’s unedited seven-page letter in its entirety. As noted in this story, some of its factual assertions on crime statistics in Lansing are incorrect.