Douglas Officials Take Exception To Saugatuck's Independent Police Services Report
“They (Saugatuck city officials) literally wasted a good amount of money (on hiring a consultant for a police services study in Saugatuck),” said Douglas Mayor Pro-Tem Greg Harvath, joining fellow council members in their harsh criticism of their neighboring elected city leaders during Monday night’s Douglas City Council meeting.
“They might want to hire a consultant that is more thorough and not so biased,” he added, echoing concerns the report was “flawed” with incomplete data.
The independent report cost $15,000, conducted by Alexander Weiss, Ph.D. and his namesake consulting firm of Evanston, Ill.
Weiss presented the final product to Saugatuck officials last week Monday. Results were shared with Douglas.
The report identified some deficiencies in police services provided Saugautck and suggested six different alternatives to the current arrangement with Douglas, noting Saugatuck is a good candidate for a public safety department.
“It (the study) gives the picture that our police officers are not valuable,” said Douglas City Council Member Lisa Greenwood, referring to the Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department (SDPD) equally shared and paid for by both cities, though it is administered by Douglas.
“If you look at the time and energy of police services (carried out by the department), most of it is being done in Saugatuck. It’s very concerning when we (Douglas city) is paying half the budget.”
The department was formed in 1998 with a current annual budget at $1.28 million, a hefty figure which, among other reasons—including an assessment of whether or not police services could be improved—prompted Saugatuck officials to look at alternatives.
Saugatuck contributes $550,000 to Douglas towards the total police budget, including extra money for more officers at Oval Beach and downtown during the busy summer season.
Saugatuck officials said they will study the report at a future workshop to consider their options. Meanwhile, Douglas officials are requesting their counterpart include them in the dialogue about it.
An ongoing point of contention between the cities and Saugatuck Township is that the township does not contribute to the SDPD’s budget although the SDPD officers respond to some calls there. This was highlighted in the report, finding that 19 percent of the department’s calls were outside of its jurisdiction, mostly to Saugatuck Township, followed by Laketown Township.
The Weiss team met with 12 Saugatuck community members which reported that the SDPD officers “are not committed to working with community residents.”
The other alternatives the report presents to Saugatuck includes the use of private security officers; negotiating a new agreement with Douglas; contracting services with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department; forming its own police department; and forming a regional police department.
Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier said the Saugatuck City Council was doing its job in requesting an outside expert to review the police services contract with Douglas and offer suggestions to ensure its taxpayers are getting the best possible services for the tax dollars being expended.
“The Saugatuck City Council received the (Weiss) report during last week’s presentation,” noted Harrier. “The council will meet in their next workshop to discuss it. The next thing is to go through and look at the recommendations. “Everybody is allowed to have their opinion, but these (police services’ issues) are concerns the council has had over the years and need be addressed.”
Harrier said Saugatuck officials contacted Douglas officials about a year ago and raised questions and concerns about the police services and the amount Saugatuck was paying for them and asked for responses, but none were forthcoming.
“These concerns are not new…and Douglas has been aware of them for some time,” he added.
As for Douglas’ Greenwood’s comments about the Weiss report painting a picture that shows the local police officers are not valuable, Harrier said he is not sure where that comes from.
“If Douglas officials have some evidence of anyone saying that or that the report indicates that, please show us,” Harrier requested. “Nowhere in the (Weiss) report does it say that or indicate that.”
As far as Douglas’ request to Saugatuck officials to include them in future “dialogue” about the issue, Harrier said the Saugatuck City Council will make that decision.
“However, as of now, I’ve not seen any request from Douglas to be included in our discussions about police services, except for this reported statement made at their recent meeting, said Harrier.
“Again, that is up to up to city council regarding whether to include Douglas. Saugatuck City Council is simply looking at the best and most cost-effective way to provide police services to our residents.
“There is a substantial amount of taxpayers’ money being used for those services. It is incumbent on our city council officials to look into this periodically.”
Harrier noted that the current police agreement between Saugatuck and Douglas has never been changed since the department was first formed in 1998.
“Saugatuck City Council has been asking Douglas to review this and see if we are doing everything we can do in the most efficient way. Our city council went out on its own to bring in one of the most prominent police experts in the nation (Weiss) to do this study. He provided us data and some policy suggestions to look at. No one asked Douglas to ante up any money,” said Harrier, who said he was surprised at the apparent negative reaction to the report by Douglas city leaders.