Sheriff says 4 more deputies needed. 

October 10, 2017

Sheriff Kim Cole

Sheriff says 4 more deputies needed. 

#MasonCountyCrime #MasonCountyNews.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

LUDINGTON — The Mason County Board of Commissioners is expected to approve the 2018 county budget during its regular meeting tonight, following a public hearing. That budget includes modest increases in the Mason County Sheriff’s Office’s budget to adjust for wage and benefit increases.

Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole said he is grateful for the cooperation his office has had with the county commission but it’s time the explore adding more deputies to the department’s roster. The sheriff says in order to effectively do its job to protect the public, four more deputies need to be added. Recently, the conversation was brought up at a county commission public safety and courts committee to look at funding options which could include asking voters to approve a millage.

“We need four more road patrol deputies to get us to a point where we can effectively fight crime and do our most to protect the public,” Sheriff Cole said, adding that in the 32 years he has worked for the sheriff’s office, the department has only increased by one deputy. There are currently 13 road patrol deputies.

“That increase of just one deputy in over 32 years is just woefully inadequate,” Cole said. “The times have changed. We don’t have the same types of crimes that we used to have. While the complaint numbers are not significantly up, the time we spend on complaints has greatly increased.”

Cole said when he took office in 2013, the sheriff’s office had a 24 percent clearance rate on cases; the office now has a 65 percent clearance rate. A clearance rate is calculated by dividing the number of crimes that are “cleared” (a charge being laid) by the total number of crimes recorded. Clearance rates are used by various groups as a measure of crimes solved by the police.

“The increase in clearance rates is a result of allowing our deputies the time they need to work on complaints,” Cole said. “It used to be that the deputies would just run from call to call without getting the chance to actually work on a case. We now give the shift supervisors the authority to call in other personnel to work overtime while the deputies are working on cases.”

Cole said an example of this was the fatal vehicle crash last week on US 31 in Sherman Township. “That crash occupied about four hours of our road patrol’s time. We were able to call in more deputies to cover for the deputies who were out on the scene. In addition to that, we also were able to call in the resources necessary to solve the case, such as our crash investigators.”

Calling in additional personnel means paying overtime. Cole said the sheriff’s office overtime budget is 8 percent of the road patrol budget; consistently the end of the year totals are typically at 13 percent.

“We need to increase our staffing in order to properly do our jobs,” Cole said. “We have stepped up our efforts of trying to make US 10 a safer highway and we are doing everything we can to fight the drug problem, especially when it comes to drugged drivers. But, we need more personnel to adequately do that.” Cole said the county has seen an over 40% increase in drug related driving incidences since 2007.

Cole said he and the county’s public safety and courts committee have had a conversation about what it would take to add four more deputies to the roster. The cost would be about $133,000 per additional deputy annually. This would not only include wages and benefits but also the purchase of an additional patrol car per deputy and equipping that deputy with weapons, protective gear, radio, computer equipment, and other items.

The sheriff’s office has recently applied for a federal COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grant through the U.S. Department of Justice, a program that was initially started under President Bill Clinton’s administration in 1994. Cole said the grant, if received, would only cover a portion of one deputy and only for a limited amount of time. Part of that deputy’s role would be to serve as a school liaison officer for Mason County Central, Mason County Eastern, and Covenant Christian schools.

The proposed 2018 road patrol and secondary road patrol budgets are $1,898,600. The sheriff’s office would need an additional $400,000 minimum to increase personnel. 

“The public safety and courts committee has started to talk about how they could accomplish paying for the sheriff’s request,” County Administrator Fabian Knizacky said. “The three things they look at were using some of our fund balance, which is short term deficit spending and not a long term solution; the possibility of eliminating or reducing other county offices that are not mandated by state law for the county to provide; or generating more revenue through a millage request.

“At this point it’s all just at the discussion stand point,” Knizacky said. “There have been no decisions and no action taken. If the committee were to take action and approve such a request, such as a millage proposal, it would then move to the county’s finance committee. If that committee were to approve it, then the county board would have to approve placing it on the ballot.”

Knizacky said to adequately fund the additional staffing through property taxes, a millage of about .25 would likely need to be requested, meaning a home with a taxable value at $100,000 would pay $25 a year.

Fourth District County Commissioner Lewis Squires serves on the public safety and courts committee. He said he is devoted to seeing that the sheriff’s office is provided with the proper tools it needs to keep the public safe.

“It’s vitally important from my perspective that we continually be mindful of the safety of our citizens,” Squires said. “Our county is blessed with an excellent sheriff and law enforcement personnel on all levels who are some of the best in the state. We need to help them and assure they are able to do their jobs.”

Squires said asking the public to pay more taxes is a task he does not take lightly but he also believes it is something that may be necessary.

“We need to support our law enforcement personnel in order to keep our communities safe.”

As stated before, however, no decisions have yet been made and the topic has only been in the form of conversation on the committee level. In order for a millage to be on the August ballot, the county commission would have to make a decision by April, Knizacky said. To date, in the 2018, county voters will be asked to renew millages for jail operations, Council on Aging, and Oakview Medical Care Facility.

The county board of commissioners meets tonight at 7 p.m. at the Mason County Courthouse, 304 E. Ludington Ave.

This story and photograph are copyrighted © 2017, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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