Recent Trouble At Saugatuck Township Fire Scene Points Out Need For Joint Police Committee
The October 12th fire at a Saugatuck Township farm where firefighters were met with confrontational and belligerent occupants and farm employees “is indicative of the problem we have,” said Saugatuck City Council Member Jeff Spangler during Monday’s council meeting.
Firefighters need police protection and police assistance during fires and that service often falls shorts, a problem that Saugatuck and Douglas officials have pointed out particularly when discussing what they say is inadequate police service in Saugatuck Township.
The Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department, for which the cities share and contribute equally to its operation, increasingly responds to calls in the township and other locales that are out of its jurisdiction.
The township gets its police services through the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department road patrols.
“That is the reason why Greg (Saugatuck Township Fire District Chief Greg Janik) and I are pushing for this Tri-Community (the cities of Saugatuck and Douglas and Saugatuck Township) police committee. It just gets worse and worse,” said Saugatuck City Councilwoman Jane Verplank, who chairs the local fire board.
The joint police committee is being formed to address not only the insufficient police service in the township, but also to deal with the increasing responses and responsibilities taken on by the Saugatuck Township Fire District (i.e., responses to injuries related to domestic violence cases, the closing of roads during accidents, services for possible scenarios involving active shooters in schools, etc.).
Of the October 12 fire incident that took place at 63rd Street and 126th Avenue, Verplank said, “Firefighters were challenged by occupants of the house and the house owner.”
At that time, records show the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department road patrol could not respond for backup at the site because the one assigned to the township was busy elsewhere.
The emergency need was filled by the Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department, which guarded the scene and ran traffic control, allowing the firefighters to do their job, Saugatuck Township Fire District officials said.
The Fennville Fire Department responded first while the Saugatuck Township Fire District arrived shortly afterwards to provide assistance. Hamilton, Ganges and Graafschap fire departments arrived as backup as well.
The police committee will study possibilities, including restructuring the current police entity so as to unite and optimize all emergency services (police, fire and ambulance) under the umbrella of what would be designated as an authority.
The township will have to sort out how it will pay for the proposed added police protection, whether through an authority or added special millage, township officials have conceded.
For now, all the parties involved are trying to figure out what is an appropriate and fair number of representatives each municipality ought to have to be represented on the newly formed joint police committee.
Janik said he hopes these issues can be resolved in the shortest period of time possible so the public may be protected.