Saugatuck may consider leaving joint police dept.

Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department
The Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department. (Dec. 20, 2017)


SAUGATUCK, Mich. (WOOD) — The City of Saugatuck may soon look into whether it should nix a longtime agreement with neighboring Douglas for joint police services.

On Thursday night, the Saugatuck City Council will discuss a resolution to create an advisory committee taking a look at the partnership. A vote on the resolution could come as early as next week.

>>PDF: Thursday city council agenda, including the resolution

Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday the state of police services has been talked about for a year. He said the conversation started because of city finances and that getting out of the police agreement could save it $300,000 annually. Currently, Saugatuck pays roughly $600,000 each year for the joint operation.

But the Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department is not happy about the idea. The two cities, only a mile apart, have shared the same police department for nearly 20 years.

“The people who live in Douglas go to Saugatuck to do their stuff. People in Saugatuck come over to Douglas. It’s one big community,” Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department Cpl. Mark Giles said.

But there may be a clear divide soon if the Saugatuck City Council decides to look into the department, which may eventually lead to withdrawing from the agreement with Douglas. Instead, the city would contract with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement — though it would be several steps and some time before something like that could happen.

Giles said talk of a possible change has been quiet and most in the community are just learning about it.

“There’s … a lot of things that we don’t think that we’ve been talked to, we’ve kind of been kept in the dark about. If this process is going to go forward, we’d like to see it more of a public process,” Giles said.

“I don’t know who’s going to have my back when I need them. They’ve always been here for me,” Cyndi Taylor, who owns Cyndi’s Moonlight Express taxi service and manages Sanborn’s Jewelry in Saugatuck, said of the local police force.

She fears there would be a lag in response times. Giles said that would likely happen, but Harrier, the city manager, said response times likely would not be impacted because Saugatuck would have a designated sheriff’s deputy.

Right now, the Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department employs eight full-time officers. Each city has four designated officers. Harrier said the officers who serve Saugatuck are technically already Douglas employees because Douglas runs the joint operation. He said that if Saugatuck were to step out of the agreement, the employees could be absorbed into the Douglas department.

Giles isn’t buying it.

“Half of our department’s going to get laid off,” he said. “I don’t believe that the City of Douglas would be able to afford those four full-time officers from Saugatuck.”

He said Saugatuck would need to contract for four deputies to maintain the same type of 24-hour service.

But some in the community are ready for change. One woman who spoke with 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday noted there’s not a lot of crime in Saugatuck.

“The town works against each other to like separate itself on these matters, but it’s such a small town that it wouldn’t change anything,” Sara Papoi said.