Billboard Protest of Police Layoffs in Michigan Fuels Public Safety Debate

Police officers in Bay City, Mich., are being called domestic terrorists after renting billboard space to trumpet that the layoffs of five police officers in the town could lead to more shootings, stabbings, robberies and beatings.

The police say they paid for the two billboards that went up last week to bring attention to the impasse in negotiations between its union and city officials, who are seeking a 10.8 percent reduction in labor costs from eight unions to tackle a $1.66 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that began July 1. The billboards also spotlight the city's decision to replace the roof on city hall for $1.6 million.

"City Hall's Roof Will Not Stop You From Getting: Beaten, Shot, Stabbed, Robbed. 5 Laid Off Bay City Cops Could Have!" one billboard reads.

The other one shows a masked gunman and reads, "POSSIBLE. The result of Bay City Commissioners laying off five police officers."

"I think it's distasteful and harmful to the community," Commission President Christopher Shannon told "I don't know what they wish to gain as far as good faith negotiating. I think it really drives a wedge somewhat between those of us who are trying to come up with reasonable compromises and those that are on the other side of it."

The city reached a deal with the firefighters' union before the deadline of June 30 and says it is on the verge of inking contracts with three other unions that would reduce labor costs. But the police asked for a raise during its round of negotiations, Shannon said.

"As it turned out, as deadlines approached no one had really made any meaningful progress so we had to issue layoffs," Shannon said, noting that the city is bound by state law to present a balanced budget by June 30. "It wasn't the best option, but the only option we had given the fiscal pressures we were facing."

The layoffs bring the number of officers below 60 for a population of 35,000, Mayor Charles Brunner told The city has given all unions a deadline of Aug. 31 to ink a contract. Employees who were laid off can be rehired if a deal is reached before then.

Shannon said the billboards are scaring the residents and that consensus of the community, which has reached out to the commission, is that the ads are domestic terrorism.

But the police union says it's trying to draw attention to the layoffs.

"Well, it definitely got the message across," said Don Aldridge, the treasurer and secretary of the police force, when asked if the billboards went too far.

"It's a reality though," he told Fox News. "When you're out there on the streets dealing with violence each and every night, you know, that's what it is and it was designed to motivate our citizens to contact their commissioners and tell them that they support their police department.

Brunner said that he believes the billboards might be "a little over the top, but certainly alerts the public to the five layoffs."

But Brunner added that he doesn't think the billboards will have any effect on salvaging the five positions.

"I assume the police department is going to the court of public opinion because the city commission has already weighed in," he said.

Brunner said his top priority is public safety and that he vetoed the contract for the new roof, but his veto was overridden by the commission in a 6-3 vote.

"These are difficult times and requires some decisions that are very controversial," Brunner said. "I respect the decisions the commission made. I just have a strong emphasis on public safety. I'm just a little nervous and concerned for the direction we're heading in because of economics and I think we're at a point where we need to establish some priorities."

In 2009, there were two homicides (up from one in 2008), 38 rapes (down 54 percent from the previous year) and 112 aggravated assaults (up 10 percent) in Bay City, according to the police department.

Shannon said if the billboards are to be taken seriously and the police force believes it has lost its ability to protect and service, "it really forces me as commission president in Bay City, Mich., to put together a committee to explore contracting services out to the sheriff's department" and other local law enforcement agencies.

"If they cannot do their job…we have to consider alternatives to provide public safety," he said.