Scottville police respond to 66% of calls; not less than .01 percent as claimed by commissioner.

July 14, 2015

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By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

SCOTTVILLE — The Scottville Public Safety Committee will meet Wednesday, July 15 at 4:30 p.m. at city hall to discuss the Scottville Police Department. The meeting is a result of a motion that took place at the July 6 city commission meeting where two commissioners attempted to eliminate the police department through a motion.

During that meeting, At-Large Commissioner Don Pasco, who was appointed by the city commission in April to fill an empty seat, made a motion to eliminate the city’s police department. The motion was supported by 1st Ward Commissioner Ed Hahn but was defeated on a 5-2 vote. See related story here.

Following the vote, Mayor Richard Maki agreed to ask the city’s public safety committee to review the police department. The public safety committee consists of Maki, 2nd Ward Commissioner Ann Genson and Mayor Pro-Tem David Johnson.

Committee meetings are open to the public and subject to the Michigan Open Meetings Act.

Since the July 6 meeting, Hahn has been vocal about his opposition to the police department. He appeared in a TV interview where he stated that the Scottville Police Department was unnecessary because “If there’s an emergency call, 99.9% of the time it’s the Mason County Sheriff that ends up responding and not the Scottville Police Department.”

Mason County Press investigated Hahn’s claim and came up with a drastically different figure. We dispatch logs from Mason-Oceana 911 regarding all calls to the city of Scottville. Director Ray Hasil furnished us with a record that dates back to 2003. We then narrowed the log down to law enforcement only calls, eliminating medical and fire calls.

Since 2003, until Monday, July 13, 2015, there have been 22,642 law enforcement calls in the city limits of Scottville. Of those calls, Scottville Police Department was dispatched to 15,011 or 66%. Mason County Sheriff’s Office responded to 4,285 (19 percent) and Michigan State Police responded to 977 (4 percent) — a far cry from 99.9 percent. The remainder of the calls included responses from Mason County Animal Control or the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Some were unspecified. 

City Manager Amy Williams said the percentage reflects the number of hours the city has police coverage during the week.

“We are a small department and we can’t afford to provide coverage 24 hours a day,” Williams said. “However, we do alternate the coverage we provide and we try to provide that coverage during peak times. Though there have been some people in town saying the police department only provides coverage until 5 p.m., that is simply not true. We provide coverage to the city day and night.”

Hahn also stated to the TV reporter that the city’s police budget was $180,000 a year. MCP obtained the budget from the city manager which showed that the current budget is $157,368. That budget has fluctuated in the last few years: $165,362 (2012/2013); $155,520 (2013/2014); $148,668 (2014/2015). Williams said most of the increase in this year’s budget has to do with employee sick leave.

During the July 6 city commission meeting Hahn stated the city could utilize the services of the Mason County Sheriff’s Office at no cost, as long as the sheriff’s office did not have to provide a dedicated deputy to the city or enforce the city’s ordinances.

Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole said this was true, but providing additional coverage to Scottville would mean less coverage to the rest of the county.

“Any time you reduce law enforcement in an area, you are risking the public’s safety,” Cole said. “The budget I have for my road patrol is already thin. We would respond to calls in Scottville but could not assign a car there.”

If the city were to contract with the sheriff’s office, the initial cost for one deputy would be $134,832 for the first year, according to figures provided by Mason County Administrator Fabian Knizacky. This would include the $41,000 purchase of a vehicle. Subsequent years would be: $96,666, $100,004, $103,167 and $106,233 or an average of $108,180 per year for five years.

Currently, Scottville’s $157,368 budget includes two full-time officers, a part-time chief and five part-time officers.

Comparing the city’s budget and the county’s figures are not exactly even, though. The county’s estimates include the vehicle and its yearly maintenance. The city’s vehicle expenses are budgeted into the city’s motor pool fund and the police budget “rents” the vehicle for a total cost of $1,000 a year. Taking away vehicle-related expenses from the county, the average cost would still be $93,817 per year per deputy. Williams for the past several police cars, Scottville has been eligible for federal grant funding. The most recent police car, purchased in 2012, cost the city about $12,000.

The $157,000 a year the city spends in police protection is roughly the equivalent of 7.5 mills. A mill is equal to 1/1,000 of a dollar. According to Williams, most homes in Scottville have an equalized value of around $25,000 on average. That means the average tax payer in Scottville pays $187.50 a year or $15.62 a month for police protection

On MCP’s Facebook post, Hahn questioned the training qualifications of the Scottville police officers.

“Talk with Mason County Sheriff’s department and ask how well or how poorly the Scottville Police are trained,” Hahn said in a comment responding to an editorial MCP wrote about the attempt to eliminate the police department. 

Sheriff Cole said he did not have the authority to speak about Scottville Police Department’s training and that he explained to Hahn that he would not comment about that issue.

Williams said Scottville’s officers are trained and meet state standards. She said all training has to be documented with the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards. She said Sgt. Jason Williams is a certified firearms instructor who receives re-certification through the Mason County Sheriff’s Office. She added that Officer Angela Babinec is a certified taser instructor and also a police self-defense trainer.

“All of our officers are MCOLES certified and most are graduates of West Shore Community College’s law enforcement academy,” Williams said.

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