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June 18, 2019 4:41 pm

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Ad Hoc Committee To Present Findings On Local Police Services Options Feb. 8th

As a special ad hoc police committee prepares to present its findings and possible recommendation regarding options for police services to the Saugatuck City Council on Feb. 8 - including contracting with the Allegan County Sheriff ’s Office as a possibility - Saugatuck officials will have to consider the various perspectives from local residents to officials from other local government units as well as from those in law enforcement themselves.

Meanwhile, in what Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department Interim Chief Steven Kent characterized as a “challenging year,” the department has established a new standard regarding time officers spend on foot patrol.

The increase in foot patrol is information laid out in the annual police report, recently provided for review by Saugatuck city officials who continue to study alternatives to the existing agreement with the City of Douglas, which runs the department.

Saugatuck officials made no comment about the report two weeks ago.By studying other options, Saugatuck officials hope to answer questions such as: Does the city currently have the appropriate level—be that more or less— of police service?

Can the city cut back police costs, which takes up one-third of the total city budget?

“I have read and heard some misinformation about the department budget figures. It is important that clear budget numbers are presented with the important police services decision in our near future,” states the Kent report.

“The 2017/2018 fiscal year Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department budgeted total is $1,040,250 (not $1.3 million) with costs for each city broken down as follows:
Douglas: $508,500; Saugatuck: $531,750 (Includes Seasonal Patrols & Contractual Cost).”

Critics of the existing agreement argue that were Saugatuck to contract with sheriff ’s for police service, city taxpayers could save a bundle because the sheriff ’s department does not have a police union, thereby not exposing the city to unfunded liabilities such as police pension funds, which both the cities—Saugatuck
and Douglas—have had to make payments to in the past.

Currently, the local police department covers Saugatuck and Douglas 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are eight full-time officers and a full-time clerk.

With the exception of three hours in the early hours of the morning, the coverage always consists of two full-time officers, day and night. Kent, in a recent conversation
with The Local Observer, justified this amount of coverage.

Suggesting that one full-time officer at all times would be grossly inadequate coverage, as opposed to the current two full-time officers at all times, Kent noted, “I
don’t think people really want us to be traveling 25 miles—that is how far the county jail and court are—every time there is an emergency response here?”

Officers frequently find themselves at the court or the jail processing individuals, said Kent.

Having a deputy from the Allegan County Sheriff ’s Office would cost Saugatuck—or any municipality—$75,000 per year (the local unit picks up 75% of the total cost of $100,000 and the county pays a 25% “match” because deputies will spend a portion of their time outside of the contracting area while assisting general road
patrol with emergencies).

“In the three and half years we have been in this discussion (dissolving our own local police force and contracting with the Ottawa County Sheriff ’s Office), there is no buyer’s remorse. I’ve spoken with similar municipalities, and it’s the same thing: no buyer’s remorse, ” Village of Spring Lake Clerk and Treasurer Marv Hinga told The Local Observer Newspapers on Tuesday.

Spring Lake and the City of Ferrysburg are saving taxpayers about $80,000 a year by switching from their previous joint arrangement—they had their own police department—to contracting deputies with the Ottawa County Sheriff ’s Department, according to Hinga. Similar to Saugatuck and Douglas, those cities also had a police budget that was more than $1 million and similarly, had seven full-time officers and one police chief.

“In the current environment, police officers come at a premium and it becomes challenging for small units of government to afford,” said Hinga, referring to the high
demand but shortage of police officers on the force.

Meanwhile, two Saugatuck residents—Sydney Cook and Marcie Nemith-told The Local Observer that they are happy with their police department and have even established a good rapport with the officers; any change Saugatuck does would undermine that strong sense of security and safety they feel, they say.

“If they (Saugatuck officials) remove their presence, I would seriously consider moving. They are so important to our community. They have always been there for my family and friends on so many occasions; I feel close to them,” said Nemith.

Cook and Nemith say they live in a part of Saugatuck that is not “very wealthy” and trouble often finds them.

Concerned about a Saugatuck move to contract with the county, Nemith recalls a time when a friend was in deep trouble when the friend got in a car and drove off recklessly and dangerously, but a Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department officer was immediately there to stop the car from traveling any further than one block.

“If an officer had to drive from Allegan County, my friend would have definitely killed herself. Instead, a police officer from this department was there right away,”
said Nemith.

Ad Hoc Committee To Present Findings On Local Police Services Options Feb. 8th

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