Deadline looms for Saugatuck policing decision

Study finds leaving joint department with Douglas would save city $220K annually

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

SAUGATUCK, Mich. (WOOD) — Saugatuck City Council members are one step closer to severing their contract with the neighboring city of Douglas for a joint police department.

During their workshop meeting Thursday afternoon, a 62-page study was unveiled that showcases research into leaving the joint department and instead contracting with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office for police services.

The study found using a contracted deputy assigned specifically to Saugatuck would save the city $220,791 annually. It also analyzed potential changes in response times, proposed scheduling based on crime statistics and interviews with surrounding municipalities that utilize similar contracts.

>>PDF: Saugatuck police services study

“It’s not personal. It’s not about any other issues. If anybody tries to make it into that, it’s not true, plain and simple,” Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier told 24 Hour News 8. “This isn’t the city council deciding, ‘Hey, we’re bored. We have nothing else to do. Let’s figure our deal with police department issues.’ The community has brought this to the council time and time again.”

Last year, the council sent out surveys to 1,000 city residents. Of the ones sent out, the council reported a roughly 20 percent response rate. Most of those responses approved researching other policing options, according to the council.

But as the council gets closer to the March 1 deadline to notify Douglas if it decides not to renew the current contract, more people are asking the council to rethink the direction they’re going.

24 Hour News 8 obtained a letter dated Jan. 16, 2018, from Allegan County Prosecutor Roberts Kengis to Mayor Ken Trestor and Harrier.

“Recently I’ve read and heard through various colleagues that the City of Saugatuck is considering withdrawing from the Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department. I would like to express my concern about this potential action,” Kengis wrote.

The letter goes on to cite his 25 years of experience, adding, “if Saugatuck no longer has a police department the response will be slow and small, leading to a greater risk of harm to law abiding citizens…”

Kengis ended the letter by writing, “…I respect the city’s ability and power. … I simply hope to provide input and experience for your consideration.”

Harrier said city officials will send Kengis the full study “so we’re going to educate him and give him some information.”

The most outspoken group against changing the contract has been the Saugatuck-Douglas police union. President John Bender pointed out that a deputy assigned by the sheriff’s office to Saugatuck couldn’t work 24 hours, so resources would be coming from other parts of the county when the deputy is off duty.

“You can have all the alarms in your houses and businesses in the world, but if there’s nobody coming to arrest the bad guys when they set those alarms off, it doesn’t do you much good,” he said. “It’s not just by the grace of God that the bad guys don’t come break into houses in Saugatuck in the middle of the night. It’s because they know the cops are here and if they do, we’re going to take them to jail.”

On Feb. 22, Allegan County Sheriff Frank Baker will be attending the council’s workshop meeting to go over what the county can provide and answer any questions. If the council members still decide to move forward, a final vote could come at their following meeting on Feb. 26.