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Specialized Squad Utilizes Troopers Districtwide to Increase Police Presence and Reduce Crime

Faced with rising crime, a nationwide police staffing shortage and a desire to increase positive police-community relations, today’s crime reduction efforts require both creativity and fresh approaches.

Benton Harbor, a city in Berrien County with a population of just over 9,000 people, has been a part of Michigan’s Secure Cities Partnership (SCP) since 2015. The SCP provides cities challenged with violent crime with additional Michigan State Police (MSP) resources. During initial development, a Major Case Unit (MCU) was established to bolster investigative efforts in the city. Today, MSP detectives continue to work with detectives from the Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety to investigate the city’s most violent crimes, but a new team has also hit the streets.

“We knew we could focus more on three core areas - proactive policing, crime prevention and community engagement - with a few adjustments,” said Capt. Michael Brown, commander of the MSP Fifth District, which covers southwest lower Michigan. “A specialized squad was the answer, but none of our posts individually could spare troopers to form their own full team.”

A team-based, districtwide approach was the solution. The Fifth District Crime Prevention Squad was established in 2021 utilizing one trooper from each of the district’s four posts and recently a full-time sergeant was put in place to supervise the team.

Photo of five members of the Fifth District Crime Prevention Squad

Pictured left to right - Sgt. Ian Fields, Tpr. Korey Casey, Tpr. Charles Scruggs, Tpr. Jared Orban and Tpr. Chad Burnside

“We’re available throughout the district, but focus most of our time in Benton Harbor,” said Sgt. Ian Fields, who is the squad leader. “This effort benefits residents because we’re focusing on crime reduction by working with MCU detectives and local officers. As a team, we feel like we’re doing important work.”

Most notably, they have been taking illegal guns off the streets. So far this summer, 83 firearms have been seized, primarily found during traffic stops.

illegal guns seized

“In once instance, forensic testing linked a gun to a homicide that occurred earlier this spring,” said Sergeant Fields. “The suspect from the traffic stop was interviewed by detectives and admitted to a fatal drive-by shooting. A homicide that previously had no leads and may have gone unsolved is now closed. That really is the best-case scenario.”

Photo of weapon seized during traffic stop

Not every shift is like that, but the team is making big gains. They have the bonus of extra member Otto, Tpr. Jared Orban’s canine partner.

“Most of my calls for service were in the Benton Harbor area so it made sense for me to be part of the squad. This is the work we enjoy,” said Trooper Orban, who is assigned to the Niles Post. “Otto is a huge help tracking suspects and finding discarded items like weapons or drugs.”

For example, a suspect vehicle recently fled a traffic stop and later crashed with everyone inside trying to escape by running away. While one trooper located one suspect, other officers set up a perimeter and Otto quickly found another suspect hiding on the porch of an abandoned home and then found a discarded gun nearby.

photo of K9 Otto with discarded firearm

“The entire concept is team-based,” said Sergeant Fields. “This works because the entire group is committed to making a difference. Our law enforcement partners in the communities know that too.”

Community engagement is a primary part of the mission. The squad attends and hosts many events.

photo of trooper interacting with kids at National Night Out

“We attended National Night Out in Benton Harbor last week,” said Trooper Orban. “It was a great chance to walk around, talk to residents and get to know the people we’re protecting.”

The Fifth District Crime Prevention Squad has the support of all commanders in the district. They are currently in their second deployment period. Each trooper commits to working the detail for three months to start, and then can reapply to stay on the squad.

In addition to Benton Harbor, the team has worked in South Haven, Kalamazoo, Covert and Saugatuck on various assignments. 

“This is an opportunity for troopers to expand their knowledge of urban policing, leadership and working in a team atmosphere,” said Captain Brown. “We’ll keep this crime fighting squad running as long as we can.”

With support from the legislature and Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s FY23 budget, funding continues for the SCP, adding $700,000 to expand crime reductions efforts within the state.