KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — As local governments begin budget talks, Kalamazoo County agencies presented their big asks to commissioners this week. Some of the requests deal with ongoing issues that are starting to show their impacts.
For example, Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting said staffing problems on his end stem from what he calls “a perfect storm.”
“We’ve got this backlog of all of these major cases — murders, rapes, robberies and home invasions — that are waiting to happen on top of the incremental increase in our cases,” Getting said.
In Tuesday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Getting told county commissioners hiring five additional assistant prosecuting attorneys will help his office deal with the ongoing influx and massive backlog of serious cases awaiting trial.
“We went from having 22, maybe sometimes 24 life-offense cases — murders, assault with intent to commit murder, crimes like that — pending here in Kalamazoo to having over 80,” Getting explained. “We went from having people sitting in jail for short periods of time to now having people that have been sitting in jail for two years or more.”
Getting said another factor is a major spike in the amount of evidence they get in such cases. From police body and dash cams to cell phone and home surveillance footage, Getting said the extra manpower is needed to watch and review every clip, frame by frame.
“I’m asking my 15 criminal lawyers to do their jobs (and) to do another person’s job because we’ve never received additional personnel to deal with the … increase in the number of cases,” Getting said. “Now, I’m also going to ask them to do those five people’s job because someone has to watch all that evidence.”
The total amount requested from Getting’s office is more than $692,000. Around $188,000 will be for three victim advocate positions.
But his office is not the only agency asking for financial help.
Sheriff Richard Fuller said their latest and most blatant example happened just this week.
While police were trying to de-escalate a standoff in Charleston Township Monday night, there were other first responders at the scene helping divert traffic.
“In the past, we’ve been able to utilize multiple police officers, deputies for a situation and be able to mitigate any dangers coming into the situation,” Fuller explained. “Now, we’re reaching out more and more to fire departments. These are part-paid fire agencies that don’t have a full-time staff. And even if they were a full-time staff, they’re required to go to the next fire call or the next emergency medical need, not sit on a road blocking traffic.”
Fuller told News 8 it bothers him how agencies, like his office, must reach out for services calls to agencies beyond law enforcement, like firefighters.
“That’s not their job. I want to do what I can to help the fire departments get back to their job and not have to do our job,” Fuller added.
Among the funding requests, Fuller is asking county commissioners to help his office add 26 new positions, including five sheriff’s deputies, to add to the 51 existing openings his office has. He explains if they were to fill the current vacancies, it is considered “even,” which he says is not enough to help current staff working extra as a result.
“Their families are tired of this. They’re tired of this,” Fuller said. “It becomes a situation where I start to worry about their mental health, their physical health, their financial health. Those are all things that are important to me for our staff.”
Sheriff Fuller said other funding will help send deputies in-training to the service academies and recruiting. He said the candidate pool has become more of a “puddle.” He explained those efforts would focus on bringing in those from other law enforcement branches and agencies more than new recruits.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Kalamazoo County Commission has not yet returned News 8’s request for comment.