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Controversy over cop firings in Benton Harbor

May 31, 2013|By Rachel Lake ( | WSBT-TV

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – There's more controversy in Benton Harbor after the emergency financial manager fired two high-ranking officers. A city commissioner says they did it to save money.

Public Safety Director Roger Lange wouldn't comment on the issue, but City Commissioner Dennis Knowles says it was a move to save money.

Former Benton Harbor Police Captain Dan Unruh did not mince words on Facebook after Tony Saunders, the emergency financial manager, fired him. In a post, he said, "After 36 years in law enforcement, I know I walked out of that station today with my integrity & loyalty to the job, not politics and self-gain like somebody else is currently displaying."

Saunders also fired Deputy Public Safety Director Robert O'Brien. Unruh's post said he was not given a reason for the pink slip, but Knowles says it was all to save money. He estimates the layoffs will save the debt-ridden city about $300,000 a year.


"I think it was an exceptional move. I believe this that should it have happened for several years that the previous EFM had been here, we'd probably be in much better shape now. Where there was frivolous spending, you don't see that now," said Knowles.

But some people living in Benton Harbor say fewer police officers means less safety.

"We don't have enough police control as it is as far as them patrolling the areas and keeping the community safe, so now, since two police officers have been fired... What's gonna happen now? The crime rate's gonna go up," said Charlene Flowers.

Knowles' counter-point -- He says the officers weren't patrolling the streets anyway.

"And then what were they doing? I rarely would see them out in the field if in the field at all. So, it was a waste of money," he said.

"I think there's other avenues they can use to save money and cut different areas, but not letting go of safety patrol whether it's desk or actual hands on," said Shayna Cummings, who's against the firings.

WSBT reached out to the emergency financial manager, but he was not available for comment on Friday.

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