By Jim Hayden
Saugatuck City Council gave the 10-4 Monday to a three-member committee to get just the facts on what residents want out of their police department.
“We’ll bring it all in, digest it and throw it back to you guys,” said councilman Barry Johnson who will head the committee with council members Ken Trester and Bill Hess.
Council in January hired Alexander Weiss Consulting LLC of Evanston, Ill., for $15,000 to research the appropriate level of police service needed in the city and the most cost-effective way to get it.
The study presented last month recommended several options for the city, including creating its own department, using private security officers, negotiating a new agreement with Douglas, contracting for services with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department, forming a regional police department and creating its own department of public safety.
The newly-formed committee will collect top policing priorities from council members and develop a mail survey for residents. A final report on policing options will be brought to the council by August.
“We need to clearly look at options,” Hess said. “We know there needs to be a change.”
The Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department, formed in 1998, is run by the City of Douglas with a current budget of $1.28 million. This is the second year the budget topped $1 million. Saugatuck contributes $550,000 to the total, including money for extra officers for Oval Beach and downtown Saugatuck during summer.
Residents have concerns about the cost of the department, staffing, equipment and a lack of community presence, according to Hess.
“Universally, it’s the need to make a change,” Hess said about public comments on the police department.
Interim Police Chief Steve Kent had issues with the report.
“I don’t think it gives you a true picture of our department,” he told council.
Kent said in a June 27 email that he was interviewed by the consultants for only 35 minutes.
“During this interview I was not asked for any statistical information, department policy or any other department documentation,” he wrote.
“The consultants never interviewed any other department personnel, never walked into the police department, never inspected department equipment or vehicles, viewed daily operations, etc.,” the interim chief wrote. “I have been a part of a police services study previously and the contact with the department was extensive, whereas this one was anything but. Very odd in my opinion.”
The consultants spoke with 12 community members who said there was a disconnect between the police and community and that police officers spend too much time on issues that are not Saugatuck priorities.
“I recognize that every opinion counts and do my job daily with that in mind, however this seems like a very shortsighted approach by Weiss Consulting,” Kent said in the email.
“I am out daily speaking to residents and the general comments that I am receiving is that citizens and 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,” Kent said.