Q&A with Michael J. Cecchini, Director of the Bay City Department of Public Safety

In January of 2013, Michael J. Cecchini was named Public Safety Director for the newly-created Bay City Department of Public Safety; prior to his appointment as Public Safety Director he was the Police Chief of the Bay City Police Department for 6 years. He worked for the City of Phoenix (AZ) Police Department for over 20 years before being hired in Bay City. 

Cecchini has a Master's Degree in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Justice Studies from Arizona State University and is a graduate of Arizona State University's Advanced Public Executive Program. He is also a graduate of the 236th Session of the FBI National Academy and is a 2018 graduate of the 77th Session of the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar (LEEDS). In May of 2014, Cecchini graduated from the Bay County Fire Academy obtaining his State of Michigan Firefighter I and II Certifications. 

Route: What are Bay City’s strengths?

I think it’s a great community. We have rock-solid citizens and great neighborhoods. I came here in 2006 as the police chief and I raised my family here. It was a great place to raise children. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think some other strengths are its location. We’re near the Saginaw Bay, the Saginaw River, and surrounded by good communities. We’re transitioning from more of an industrialized area to more of a tourist, service-oriented area. We’re rebounding. 

What are our challenges?

The challenges, I think, are keeping our neighborhoods nice. We have a lot of good housing stock, but some of our neighborhoods need some tender loving care. I know the city is going to be doing some blight clean-up. It’s necessary, from a public safety standpoint. If you want to prevent more serious crimes, you start with the nuisance crimes. If you don’t address those minor crimes, your neighborhoods are going to deteriorate and bigger things will happen. I think the economy is a challenge too, but I’ll stick with what we can control. If we make sure our neighborhoods are safe and clean, then we’re going to have more invested citizens.

We also have aging fire stations. We have mid-20th-century buildings that we’ll either need to replace or close down in the future because they’ve just outlived their lifespan. That is going to be a big one, definitely, It’s something we have to plan for and prepare for.

What initiatives are in motion to meet our challenges?

This summer, we’ll be doing Blight Enforcement, along with the city’s Code Enforcement Department. We’ll also do Status Offense Enforcement, which addresses situations such as Curfew Enforcement and Minor in Possession. Kids out after curfew are more likely to get into trouble and be drinking. My grandmother used to say “Nothing good happens after 12 o’clock.” We focus on those issues in the summer.

What are your plans and goals for your department in the next few years?

Remember, we’re the Department of Public Safety, so we also include Fire and Emergency Medical. We have 18 full-time firefighters. The original plan was tojust have public safety officers, but we’ve modified that. We’re going to keep the firefighters. We’ll be hiring firefighters in the near future. Down the road, we’d also like to increase our law enforcement staffing.

For our other initiatives, we’re continuing our efforts in community-based policing. We like to be transparent in what we do. We have Facebook and Twitter accounts and a page on the city’s website. We post all of our crime stats and our use-of-force stats. Transparency is important. Community engagement is important. Being responsive to the community is important. We exist as an entity to serve the community in law enforcement, firefighting, and emergency medical.

The United Way recently held a series of Community Conversations that showed safety is a top concern for Bay City residents. Safety is a broad term, but can you suggest something to improve safety for individuals?

You have safety and you have perception of safety. I think Bay City is safe, but other people might have a perception that it’s not safe. If people perceive it’s not safe, they will modify their behavior or not be engaged in the community. So what can people do?

There’s a term called victimology. It’s the study of victims. Your behavior gives you some control over whether you’re going to be a victim or not. For instance, if you don’t lock your car and park it on the street with expensive electronics in the vehicle, well, guess what? You’re more likely to be a victim of a theft from a vehicle. If you’re going to the bar and getting drunk and getting in conflicts, you’re more likely to have a simple assault or an aggravated assault.

For property crimes, out of sight is out of mind. Take the time to park your vehicle in your garage or in your driveway, if you can. Take the valuables out of it. Lock the door. Be less appealing to thieves. Keep your house up. Trim the bushes. Something that looks nice and is well lit is less attractive to criminals. I’m not trying to get preachy, but don’t drink too much. Don’t drink and drive. Stay away from drugs. Be courteous to other people. Don’t provoke other people.

Be aware of your surroundings too. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right. Get out of there. Don’t try to rationalize it. Use that prickle sense, so to speak, and follow your gut instincts. 

For your kids, make sure you know where they are and that they’re home at night. If they’re running around after curfew, they’re more likely to get into trouble or mischief.

In my neighborhood, we have some elderly residents. We keep an eye on them. We help them. You’re part of a community, so we should look after each other.

It’s really simple stuff. 

What inspired you to seek this career?

I never had any relatives in law enforcement. As a kid, I remember watching the TV show “Adam-12” in the 1970s. That was a great show. It depicted officers as men and women who chose this profession to enforce the law and to help people. That sparked my interest. 

What’s the best part of your job?

I’m a systems guy, so you know the best part is creating systems that help run my department and seeing employees thrive in the systems created. The worst part is the politics. I’m in a political world, but I’m not a politician.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received and who did it come from? 

I had a lot of great bosses in Phoenix. That was an excellent organization and that’s where I learned how to do things. It was a service philosophy. Excellence in community service, integrity, and doing things right is what it’s all about. We’re not going to be perfect, but we try to do things the right way and provide a good service to the community.

Here’s something that’s also important to me, and I forget who told me this. We deal with people at their worst and during a crisis. A lot of people we’re dealing with have made bad choices or they didn’t have a lot of opportunities. But you should never take someone’s human dignity from them, no matter what they’ve done. 

Everyone who gets hired has an interview with me. We talk about the realities of working in public safety and a big one is not becoming cynical and jaded. I always tell people “CYA” and everyone thinks it means something else. It’s Check Your Attitude. We can all have bad attitudes and be down, but if you’re going to survive a 25-year career, you need to have a good attitude and create good memories. My goal is to make sure my people accomplish the mission and I want to keep my people safe and keep the community safe.

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