Saugatuck City Council opens discussion on police department

Allegan County
generic saugatuck-douglas police

SAUGATUCK, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Saugatuck could see changes to their police department in the future.

Thursday, city council members agreed to move a resolution forward that would create an advisory committee tasked with exploring different options for policing the city. They’ll vote on the resolution next Tuesday.

Currently, the city contracts with neighboring Douglas for a joint police department. A system that has worked for 20 years and shouldn’t change, according to Jon Bender, the president of the Saugatuck-Douglas police union.

“We love working here. We love this town. We love the people and we really want to stay,” Bender told 24 Hour News 8. “Not just because we love our jobs, but we legitimately believe we provide a very good service.”

Roughly 25 percent of the city’s general fund goes towards the current contract. City leaders noted their respect for current law enforcement, but ultimately, the city council will weigh what’s financially sustainable for Saugatuck.

“I’ve been here 12 years and it’s been a discussion for 12 years,” Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier said after the meeting. “[The council is] trying to be proactive. That’s all they’re trying to do.”

Alternatives the advisory committee would evaluate — if the council approves the resolution — include contracting with another police force, creating an independent police department or creating a public safety authority made up of other interested municipalities.

Currently, officers working for the police department are Douglas employees. Harrier noted it’s unknown if officers assigned to Saugatuck would be laid off if the contract ends. But he added a new contract with an entity like Allegan County would create an opportunity for any unemployed officers to apply to work as a county deputy and potentially be assigned back to Saugatuck.

Harrier added more research is needed before a final decision is made. If the council moves to discontinue the contract with Douglas, it would need to be decided by March 1, 2018.

The current contract is up for renewal at the end of June 2018.

*Editors note: An earlier report stated officers would be absorbed into the Douglas department if the contract ends. That is only one potential outcome, among multiple possibilities.

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