Saugatuck Officials Put A Hold On Hiring Police Services Consultant For Time Being
Saugatuck city officials voted to hold off on hiring a consultant that would be charged with researching the appropriate level of police service within the city, available options and identifying the most cost-effective way to pay for those changes, if any.
It was part of the agenda at Monday night’s meeting, but Saugatuck City Council cited the need to study the matter further, including more discussions in workshops and a request for a future conference call with Alexander Weiss Consulting, LLC in order to ask questions about the firm’s police services study proposal.
The consultant is asking a total fixed price of $15,000 for the ir work, a project that would take 90 days.
The study would entail a patrol staffing analysis, input from community focus groups on police performance, among other things.
Saugatuck officials wanted to complete the study before the March 1 deadline for the intergovernmental police agreement with the City of Douglas (they share the cost and services of the Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department) so as to step into a renewed agreement with a better understanding of Saugatuck’s police needs.
Both cities want to make modifications to the agreement to improve it, but that may have to wait following Saugatuck’s decision to table the study action.
“We’ve been waiting for 10 years to do this, I don’t see why we can’t put it off for another month,” said Saugatuck City Council Member Barry Johnson, referring to what officials have been mulling over the last several years.
He made the motion to table the matter, citing the need for more discussion and the need to better understand the scope of the proposed study.
With the exception of Saugatuck City Council Member Jane Verplank, who voted against the tabling, Johnson’s colleagues concurred with his motion, but some also want to make sure action is taken and the wait is not much longer to bring it to fruition.
Saugatuck Mayor Pro-Tem Ken Trester, for example, said he supported further discussion, but also noted, “I am also concerned about kicking the can down the road.”
The city’s salient question is: What is the right police service for Saugatuck?
City officials say they have heard contradictory opinions from their constituents.
For example, while some residents want 24-hour police protection at all times and want overall more police service, others say it is not necessary.
The study proposal is a component of a wider look at police services in the Tri-Community, not just within Saugatuck.
Police costs continue to increase for the cities, with current fiscal-year costs totaling $1.29 million to run the shared police department, taking up about a quarter of the cities’ respective budgets.
Saugatuck Township currently shares one county deputy with five other townships and is currently not part of the police coverage provided by the Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department. This is not sufficient coverage, Saugatuck Township leaders have conceded.
Over the years, representatives of the Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department and both cities’ officials have long expressed concern the department’s officers often respond to calls in the township, though it is not not part of their jurisdiction and the township has for a long time refused to help fund police costs.
The local fire department’s role in emergency service response exponentially increased (i.e. a 66 percent jump in car accidents from last year) throughout the Tri-Community, which includes the township.
Fire officials have cited the need for police service assistance, as firefighters need police protection and police assistance during fires.
Among the ideas being bandied about to ameliorate the situation—all of which are currently on the back-burner of all three municipalities—are the formation of an area-wide police authority, a combining of police, fire and EMS (emergency services) under an authority with the stated goal of optimizing those services.
The Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department accounts for eight full-time officers, including the police chief (full-time officers work in 12-hours shifts); two part-time year-round officers; and two part-time seasonal officers (May through September).