When someone opens a browser window or an app to say something on the Internet, they should first be shown three warnings: 1. There are no takebacks; 2. Don't expect anyone to understand; 3. You will not get the benefit of the doubt. According to a story in the Detroit Free Press, if Isabella County Sheriff Michael Main had been reminded of that before he made a Facebook post on the department's official page, he might have spared himself a boatload of grief. Main wanted to let constituents know that high gas prices were affecting the department as well, and wrote, "We have exhausted what funds were budgeted for fuel with several months to go before the budget reset." To cut down on fuel costs, he said, "I have instructed the deputies to attempt to manage whatever calls are acceptable over the phone," which were, "non-in-progress calls, non-life-threatening calls and calls that do not require evidence collection or documentation," anything not an emergency.
Then, to assure constituents that the police weren't abandoning them and that safety remained priority number one, he added that deputies "will continue to provide patrols to all areas of the county" and respond in-person to "Any call that is in progress with active suspects."
Naturally, this turned into non-stop phone calls to the department and a bunch of nationwide coverage, people reading the statement as "We're out of gas so you're on your own." And that led to Main deleting the Facebook post. But as we already covered, it was too late.
Other outlets reported the department's budget as $40,000 for the year. Nicole Frost, the county administrator, said 96% of that had been spent with 3.5 months left before the new budget disbursed more funds. She said other county commissioners have asked if they needed to start work on a new budget before the normally appointed time. Her reply was that everything can be addressed by moving funds around or making amendments instead of drawing up an early budget. Moving money around is what Saginaw County Undersheriff Miguel Gomez said his department did when they faced being $30,000 in the red thanks to fuel prices. The Michigan State Police department asked the legislature for another $2.8 million to cover its ballooning budget.
Main hasn't responded to inquiries about the Facebook post. We'll guess his experience is a lesson for other departments that are struggling and will continue to do so as things get worse for departments and the state in general. As of this writing, the average price of a gallon of gas in Michigan is $5.21. The CEO of the Michigan Municipal League, Dan Gilmartin, told Freep, "It's affecting [cities] in the short term ... But in the longer term it is going to affect them even more. And it could be significant in some places, especially with all the infrastructure work being done" as fuel prices dramatically increase the costs of construction and road crews.
With analysts in general agreement that gas is headed for $6 a gallon or beyond by the end of summer, get ready for more pain. And more police on foot or bike.