CBS 'Battle Creek' Show Misses City's Real Police Drama

Don't blame taxpayers if Tasers don't work

In the CBS show 'Battle Creek', the police are portrayed as not having enough money to charge their Tasers. The reality? The city is paying $2.5 million more than nine years ago to cover police and fire pensions. Image via CBS.com.

Hollywood's storyline of an underfunded Battle Creek police department is fiction. The reality? One Battle Creek police officer made $100,000-plus in 2014 and the city is paying $2.5 million more to the police and fire pension plan than it did nine years ago.

In the fictional CBS TV show “Battle Creek” that debuts March 1, police detectives complain about being underfunded. It’s so bad, they say, that their Tasers don’t work because the department can't afford to recharge the batteries.

That’s Hollywood. In real life, if Tasers go uncharged it probably has more to do with a police and fire pension system that's costing $2.5 million more than just nine years ago.

Local media generally provide in-depth coverage when Hollywood comes to town. For example, a Battle Creek Enquirer story last August tracked the movements of production staffers from the show while they were in town for a weekend. (The program was actually filmed in California.) And last week the newspaper “fact checked” a CBS promo for the show, revealing that a restaurant the network linked to the city is actually in another town.

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However, the movie’s questionable premise about the financial status of the city’s police force has not been given attention.

The premise is seen in a trailer with a voice-over of actor Dean Winters saying, “We are understaffed and underfunded, forced to make due with substandard and out-of-date equipment.” The clip shows out-of-juice Tasers while Winters says, “We need new equipment. We need new everything.”

This may make for a good Hollywood storyline, but in real life, it leaves out where the money went.

The Battle Creek Police Department spent $15.06 million in 2014, consuming nearly 40 percent of the city’s entire $38.66 million general fund budget — by far the largest line item.

Thirteen of the city’s 75 line officers made $80,000 or more in 2014, including overtime; one was paid $107,563.That doesn’t include detectives and command officers who generally get more. The median household income for Battle Creek is $37,814.

The TV show’s Battle Creek agency is “undermanned.” In the real city the police department had 122 full-time equivalent positions in 2014, or one FTE for every 429 residents. By comparison Lansing has 1 FTE for every 499 residents, and Dearborn 1 for every 530, both as of 2013

The drama in the real Battle Creek is the increasing strain police pensions are imposing on the city’s finances. In 2005, the system cost $1.8 million in taxpayer contributions and was 93 percent funded. In 2014, the cost had risen to $4.3 million, and as of 2013 pensions were just 79 percent funded, with a shortfall of $31 million.

“That is the fiction of the show,” said Leon Drolet, chair of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance. “It’s not sexy for a TV show to talk about how a retirement plan is structured. There is no shortage of funding. There is a shortage of priorities and restraint when it comes to retirement and benefits.”
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See also:
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