Saugatuck Moves Forward With Intent To End Police Services Agreement With Douglas & Contract With The Allegan County Sheriff's Department
The City of Saugatuck is ready to dissolve its long-time intergovernmental agreement with the City of Douglas and contract police service and protection with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office, Saugatuck officials announced at a special meeting last week (Thursday, Feb. 8).
“In the face of increasing costs and shrinking tax revenues, many communities like Saugatuck find themselves asking how many law enforcement officers are required to ensure public safety,” Saugatuck City Council Member Barry Johnson read, in part, from the concluding statement of The Police Services Advisory Working Group report.
“This is a fundamentally different question than how many officers does a community want or can a community support. Yet answering the need question effectively frames a discussion about want and affordability.”
Johnson headed the advisory group. The other two members include Saugatuck Mayor Ken Trester and Saugatuck City Council Member Bill Hess.
The Advisory Group claims, via its report, that Saugatuck will save taxpayers more than $220,000 when comparing the current Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department (SDPD) fiscal year budget of $576,000 (over $1 million in the shared costs with Douglas), with the estimated contract service with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department ($355,209).
Also, the advisory group members claim there will be times when service with the sheriff’s department will provide more police service to the citizenry than what SDPD provides at this time.
Saugatuck leaders deem the existing schedule of the SDPD—with a total cost of $1 million to operate between the two cities—as being “at times adequate” and “at times over-staffing,” and the contract comes with a retirement/pension legacy cost that is economically inefficient.
However, Saugatuck’s move brings worries to those who see SDPD officers as an integral part of the community, where families, including kids, feel safe, secure, and even know the officers by name. They also worry about how this proposal will affect response times to emergency situations.
“You don’t have a big crime problem and you don’t have a big crime problem because of our current police presence. Bad guys, they know when police are not around. What prize do you put on your personal safety and the personal safety of your family,” Saugatuck resident Ken Berris told the council.
Berris is also a Chicago resident. He has been coming to Saugatuck since 2004 and purchased property here in 2015.
”They (SDPD) are more than just police officers, they are our neighbors,” said Saugatuck Township resident Jennifer Drew. “Our children know the officers’ faces, they know their names. They trust them. How can we replace them?”
Natalie Mika, a mother from Douglas, echoed a similar sentiment, urging the city officials to work out its issues with Douglas.
The Saugatuck proposal also has its supporters.
“I would strongly encourage everybody—before fear and panic take control—to read the report,” said Saugatuck resident Dan Fox.
“I was struck by several things. The analysis, for example, of the change in Spring Lake and Ferrysburg.”
Another Saugatuck resident said she understood people’s concerns, but also urged her fellow residents to read the report, which includes a list of frequently asked questions with their answers.
Fox said, “As for the future, we already have a test marker: Riverside Drive. Although that neighborhood is in Saugatuck Township, a lot of people think it’s in Saugatuck. I have never, in all the years I’ve lived here, have heard complaints about safety or police service coming from there.”
The proposed sheriff’s office contract with Saugatuck will not provide 24/7 coverage compared to the existing Douglas agreement, which has two full-time officers on all the time with the exception of a couple of hours in the wee hours of the day.
However, the sheriff’s contract is designed to capture the portions of the day with the historically greatest need for law enforcement service, the report indicates.
So, most of the time, particularly during the day—both during the winter and summer—Saugatuck will have a contracted deputy, a deputy dedicated to Saugatuck, and during the summer for Fridays and Saturdays nights, for example, the sheriff’s schedule would include two contracted deputies, plus a section car patrol deputy and a shift sergeant.
The report includes a thorough schedule comparison between the existing agreement under the SDPD and the proposed sheriff’s contract.
“The ACSO (Allegan County Sheriff’s Office) currently provides 24/7 emergency law enforcement response to all Allegan County residents through general road patrol in five patrol sections and shift sergeants.
If the contracted Deputy for Saugatuck is not on duty, the general road patrol or designated sergeant would take the emergency call.
“Within the proposed budget for contracted services with the ACSO, 24-hour ‘contracted’ coverage would not be provided during certain schedules using only contracted deputies,” reads the report.
The action of Saugatuck will not impede Douglas from continuing its own independent police department, say Saugatuck officials.
Not that they didn’t try to renegotiate with Douglas, they say, but their counterparts showed no interest on at least two occasions. Differing philosophies about police service was one underlying factor in Saugatuck officials’ decision, as pointed out in the report:
“It has become evident that viewpoints between the City of Saugatuck and City of Douglas leaders vary differently in terms of the overall philosophy of law enforcement services.
“Whereas the City of Saugatuck has embraced more of a ‘staffing to need’ approach, the City of Douglas believes the ‘staffing to cover 24/7’ approach is best for their residents.”
The next steps for Saugatuck: notify Douglas about its intent, invite the public to look at the 60-page document, and then in a couple of weeks, invite Allegan County sheriff’s personnel to discuss the matter with the city council for a contract with the sheriff’s department.