Saugatuck City Leaders Set Up Ad Hoc Committee To Study Police Services
Despite severe criticism from their counterparts on the other side of the Blue Star Highway bridge and Saugatuck-Douglas Interim Police Chief Steve Kent, Saugatuck city officials are resolute on moving forward with proposed changes to the existing police service arrangement, saying they owe it to their constituents to do so.
At Monday’s workshop meeting, the Saugatuck City Council moved to create a special ad hoc committee tasked with digesting the recently completed police study—conducted by Alexander Weiss Consulting LLC of Evanston, Ill— and zero in on the city’s major concerns and needs when it comes to police services.
“We know there needs to be a change,” said Saugatuck City Council Member Jane Verplank,” echoing fellow council members’ sentiments.
The police study committee will be headed by Saugatuck City Council Member Barry Johnson, who will be joined by Mayor Pro-Tem Ken Trester and Saugatuck City Council Member Bill Hess.
This ad hoc committee will not only make use of the Weiss study, but also consider information from a city-wide residential survey it plans on conducting, similar in form to the survey conducted for the study for a single-trash hauler.
In addition, officials said the ad hoc committee will also take into account the concerns expressed by Saugatuck-Douglas Interim Police Chief Kent, who, like Douglas officials, is far from being a fan of the Weiss study, both essentially arguing the study’s data is grossly inadequate and flawed.
“I am disappointed with the (Weiss) report. I don’t think it gives a true picture of our department,” noted Kent. “It uses (Allegan County) Central Dispatch’s tracking system to account for calls for service, while we deal with complaint numbers.”
Kent gave The Local Observer Newspaper an example supporting his criticism. In one case, the Weiss study used Central Dispatch tracking numbers to account for four calls for service regarding an “assault.” However, Kent argues the true picture should reflect that case was only one complaint to which four officers responded to and which ended with a “stabbing,” not a mere “assault.”
With the ad hoc committee, Saugatuck’s ultimate objective is to move closer to picking any one of the six alternatives provided by the Weiss study, including, among others, the option of creating it’s own police department; contracting with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department; or renegotiating with Douglas a contract that provides more control and a say on police matters.
“I am like others (colleagues), I don’t have a preconceived notion of which way will go (in terms of an option),” said Trester.
Referring to the $550,000 the city currently budgets for police services, Verplank said, “That is a lot of money to give control of (the police department to Douglas).”
This is the second year the total police budget tops $1 million. The city of Douglas runs the department while Saugatuck then contracts for its police services from Douglas.
Besides their notion that the Weiss Study lacks complete data, Douglas City Council members last Monday also took umbrage at not having been invited to participate in discussions with their Saugatuck counterparts prior to or during Saugatuck’s police services study. They further argued that the study report was an affront to the professionalism of Saugatuck-Douglas police officers.
Saugatuck City Council members offered some counter commentary Monday night.
“First and foremost, we are accountable to the taxpayers of Saugatuck. We are doing our due diligence. We are looking at the issue objectively,” said Trester.
And Saugatuck Mayor Chris Peterson repudiated “the idea that our police officers are not valuable. I don’t think any of us meant to say that, not at all.”