SDPD Interim Police Chief & Saugatuck's Police Services' Consultant Address Critical Report
Last week, some members of the Douglas City Council roundly criticized their City of Saugatuck counterparts for the findings in a police services study Saugatuck asked a national expert to prepare to help them decide on a future course of action regarding local police coverage.
(The Local Observer detailed the findings of that report in its June 30 edition)
For example, Douglas Mayor Pro-Tem Greg Harvath said during last week’s Douglas City Council meeting:
“They (Saugatuck city officials) literally wasted a good amount of money (on hiring a consultant for a police services study),” said Harvath.
Douglas City Councilwoman Lisa Greenwood also chastised the Saugatuck report, saying:
“It (the study) gives the picture that our police officers are not valuable,” referring to the Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department (SDPD) equally shared and paid for by both cities though is administered by Douglas.
In response to that report, Saugatuck-Douglas Interim Police Chief Steve Kent sent a June 27th email to Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier, questioning the accuracy of the report and the quality of work that went into preparing it by the company hired by Saugatuck to prepare it.
In response to those attacks on his report, national police services expert Alexander Weiss, Ph.d, and his namesake consulting firm located in Evanston, Illinois, shared his thoughts with Harrier.
Both Kent’s and Weiss’ email and letter to Harrier, respectively, were obtained by The Local Observer.
So the public may have the full context of the controversial issues currently surrounding the recent Saugatuck police services report, The Local Observer is printing them both below in their entirety verbatim.
Steve Kent, SDPD Interim Chief’s June 27th email to Harrier:
Sir, I want to take a moment and make you aware of how the police study was conducted and clarify some points.
On April 6th I was scheduled to meet w/Alexander Weiss Consulting and I had a 35 minute interview with these gentlemen at Douglas City Hall. During this interview I was not asked for any statistical information, department policy, or any other department documentation.
In a brief conversation with the Douglas Treasurer they obtained budget information and employee leave documents. The consultants never interviewed any other department personnel, never walked into the police department, never inspected department equipment or vehicles, viewed daily operations, etc.
I have been a part of a police services study previously and the contact with the department was extensive where as this one was anything but. Very odd in my opinion.
Regarding the Weiss report & Council presentation, I want to briefly clarify a few important points of misinformation.
The consultants obtained almost all of their data from Allegan County Central Dispatch and they constantly refer to “Calls for Service”. A CFS is a tracking number used by Central Dispatch to log incoming calls & traffic stops, motorist assists, etc. whereas SDPD uses Complaint Numbers. SDPD had 3,004 Complaint numbers which are generated not only by calls into Central Dispatch but several other methods. If you are to consider only the Weiss method then you would be saying that complaints that come by walk ins or calls into our office, officers being flagged down on foot or vehicle patrol, or officer initiated complaints while being diligent on patrol have no value and are not important to the citizens who are making them or the officers that are initiating them. The Weiss method claims that these incidents are not of value as a “Call for Service” because the complainant or victim did not call into Central Dispatch.
A personal example would be while on patrol on the hill area in Saugatuck at approximately 3:45 AM I observed a female domestic violence victim walking who had not called 911. Under the Weiss method this is not a “Call for Service” and has no value. I think not.
Proactive patrols in the Weiss method apparently have no value even though they greatly reduce crime in Saugatuck & Douglas.
The Weiss presentation also stated that traffic stops are calls for service which is likely true through Dispatch however they are not Complaint Numbers through SDPD unless they result in a misdemeanor charge or become some other type of emergency.
The Weiss presentation also made reference to the high number of traffic tickets issued and the 2016 stats indicate that only 14% of the traffic stops received citations.
Regarding the Weiss Community Input, the report indicates twelve (12) community members were contacted which is approximately 1% of the year round population.
I recognize that every opinion counts and do my job daily with that in mind however this seems like a very short sighted approach by Weiss Consulting. I am out daily speaking to residents and the general comments that I am receiving is that citizens & visitors are pleased with the service of the department in general.
I would have liked to have had the opportunity to meet with Weiss Consulting or yourself to address the concerns raised from community input but instead had to hear those in a special council meeting.
I am considering a full response to the Weiss Report point by point but for now I believe it is important to make this response and brief clarification.
This is an important issue to the Citizens of Saugatuck and I believe it is crucial for city leaders to have clear information when considering such important steps that will greatly impact public safety.
Respectfully, Interim Chief Kent
Here is Weiss’ response in its entirety to Harrier in response to Chief Kent’s email:
“Kirk: Here is our response…
First, it is important to point out that we were engaged by Saugatuck to do a study of policing requirements for Saugatuck. We were tasked with determining what kind of policing Saugatuck needed, and to examine alternative means to provide that service.
Within that framework we (wanted to learn more about the current agreement with Douglas so that we could be able to more rationally evaluate other alternatives. This was never intended to be a comprehensive study of the SDPD. We have done many of those kinds of studies, but that was not in the scope of this project.
We did have a productive meeting with the interim chief. Among the items we discussed were:
• Work Schedule
• Use of part time and reserve officers
We also had a detailed discussion about policy with respect to calls outside of the SDPD area (we had the same discussion with the Allegan County Sheriff, MSP and Central Dispatch).
We had a meeting scheduled with the Douglas (city) manager (Bill LeFevere), but upon arrival we learned that he was not there. He did not contact us to arrange a subsequent interview.
There has been a lot of discussion about activity data. As I described in the report and presentation, in studies of this type we devote considerable effort in disaggregating community-generated calls for service-the basis of the staffing model. There is almost always some disagreement about how this information is derived.
In his 2016 Annual Report (Saugatuck-Douglas Police) Chief Steve Kent wrote, “ The department answered and investigated 3,004 complaints during 2016….”
It is not clear what these “complaints” represent or how that number is derived. There is no information in the report about these “complaints”.
We received a file from Allegan Central Dispatch with all calls that were community generated. These are calls in which someone calls central dispatch and a unit is dispatched.
When we received that file we were struck by the way in which data was collected. It is their procedure that when more than one officer is dispatched to a call a record is created for each unit.
Below you see two examples. In the first example two officers were dispatched to a harassment call. There is a record created for each. In the second example four officers are dispatched to an assault. Importantly, in the CAD system these two events look like six, so if you asked them (Central Dispatch) how many calls you had they would say six.
06/24/2016 17:41:53 HARASSMENT 439 BUTLER
06/24/2016 17:41:53 HARASSMENT 439 BUTLER
07/03/2016 07:02:23 ASSAULT HOFFMAN AND WATER
ASSAULT HOFFMAN AND WATER
ASSAULT HOFFMAN AND WATER
ASSAULT HOFFMAN AND WATER
While it is the case that, on occasion, officers come upon crimes or victims while on patrol, the advent of mobile phones has significantly improved the ability for individuals to report crimes. In fact, many events result in multiple calls to 911.
But we talked about this in the report:
“Finally, some fraction of calls does not go through dispatch and thus may not be logged in their system. If, for example, a resident contacts an officer directly and reports an issue, the officer may respond and handle it. Unless a report is prepared that incident may not appear as a call for service.”
Our workload-based staffing model is based on the allocation of officer time into two components: community generated calls for service and other activities. Community generated calls are those in which someone contacts the police (typically through OEMC) and a police officer unit(s) is dispatched.
Other activities include officer-initiated activity, departmental initiated activity (such as missions or directed assignments), administrative activity, and patrol.
In this model we capture the actual time spent on calls for service and then build a model that assumes that the officer spends a proportion of their time on other activities. Some might wonder why we do not measure the time devoted to the other activities. The reason why we choose not to is that the data is both not valid nor is it reliable.
First, it can be very difficult to capture time spent on directed activity.
Let us say, for example, that an officer is told by their supervisor to direct their attention to an intersection where there have been numerous complaints about illegal activity. The officer completes a call for service, and since he is relatively close to the target location, he parks his vehicle nearby.
Technically he is engaged in a directed activity, but unless he calls out of service, he remains available for calls. Because of this approach much of the time consumed on directed activity is not captured.
Second, officers use different strategies to record how they spend their on-duty time.
In most agencies, for example, officers are given time during their shift for meals. Because almost all officers have portable radios some might simply take their meal break without going out of service. So when we review CAD data it can be difficult to determine whether officers actually took the break or not.
An agency in Canada that has been attempting to account for all officer on duty time found that a substantial fraction of officers where not calling out of service for meals.
This model that relies on community generated calls as the basis for staffing has been cited in a number of studies of police staffing in large, medium and small law enforcement agencies including New Orleans , Albuquerque , Louisville, Denver , San Diego , and San Francisco .
This calls for service data is important-it is something that the department should study carefully both now and in the future. It is not about looking at “1/3” of what the agency does. It is about understanding the best use of officer resources.
Nowhere in this report or in the presentation did we suggest that the time for directed activities “have no value”, as Chief Kent has suggested.
To the contrary, we have spent most of our careers focusing on ways police departments can make better use of that time. I hope that the chief will not make that statement again.
With respect to our focus group, we understand that what the community shares with us may differ from what they would tell the chief of police. That is why we insist that members of the department or other government officials not attend these sessions.
We have done these types of interviews in many communities, and we have found it to be an important piece of the data that we gather.
With respect to the issue of traffic enforcement, when citizens talk about traffic tickets it is important because they have no way of knowing whether a person that is stopped is being cited or not. Their perception is critical.”