MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Muskegon Heights is working to use social media to their advantage.
They say by posting pictures of weapons they have obtained on Facebook; it has led to a decrease in violent crime throughout the city.
Their social media presence is just one part of a multilayered culture change Police Chief Joseph E. Thomas Jr. says is currently underway.
“Shooting at people and shooting each other is a learned behavior. We need to unlearn that,” Thomas said. “It’s a societal thing and if we don’t take control of it, it’ll take control of us.”
It’s an ongoing battle Thomas has waged since he was elected in 2016. He says in the time he’s served as chief; crime has decreased.
“Total crime is down in this city. Contrary to popular belief,” Thomas said. “The problems we face, you can’t arrest your way out of them. You got to through some social consciousness revival and that’s how you get out.”
Through education in schools and churches, programs like gun buy backs interdiction techniques and Facebook. Thomas believes the city is nearing their goals.
“People need to know that we are out there doing our part. That way we can encourage them to do theirs,” Thomas said. “Like I explain to some of my officers, sweat the small stuff. Usually if you can stop the small stuff, the large stuff does not occur.”
It’s called interdiction or intercepting and preventing the movement of prohibited items. In this case, weapons and drugs that MHPD often find through routine traffic stops and detailed investigation.
“We’ve noticed loud music, we’ve noticed fights, we’ve noticed people driving with expired plates, we’ve noticed people driving under the influence. We patrol the areas looking for target events or target cars like that,” Thomas said. “We find a reason to stop, legally, to stop those type of vehicles and when we’ve pulled them over. In a lot of cases, we find weapons and we find contraband.”
Which in turn leads to more Facebook posts, showing people a culture that they say is actively under ‘reconstruction.’
“We’re not taking good people’s weapons away from them. We’re taking weapons from people that are doing bad things,” Thomas said. “If you don’t go out there and shoot at people, if you don’t go out there and fight each other, if you drive your car with the proper registration and the insurance; when a police officer pull you over for something if you don’t jump out your car and run, we don’t bother you.”
If you have plans to do any one of these things, Thomas says the Heights is not the place for you.
“Muskegon Heights is the city of friendly people until you get them upset. They are upset right now,” Thomas said. “If you want to come and visit and work in Muskegon Heights, come on in, welcome. You want to rape our women and sell drugs to our men; we’re going to drop you like a bad habit. They need to know that.”
Thomas said it will take cooperation from the entire community to achieve their culture changing goals.
“Police are the people, and the people are the police. The police department is an extension of the people, so you a part of us,” Thomas said. “We must work like that.”
To help accomplish this, the department is hiring two new positions. One, a part-time position for an officer who has passed the police academy.
The city of Muskegon Heights has also made money available for a second opportunity which would send qualified candidates to the police academy. If they pass, those candidates would have to perform police duties on a part time basis for three years in the city of Muskegon Heights, while paid a stipend that can only be used to pay for housing within the city or neighboring Muskegon.
“The mayor is behind this idea,” Thomas said. “City council too, this is something that is going to hopefully create officers extremely involved, invested in our city.”