Officers make do amid cuts

Police departments in the state of Michigan are looking for ways to continue their quality of service even as they face budget cuts and decreased tax revenues.

In September, the village of Clarkston decided to disband their police department and instead contracted with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department for police coverage.

Although no other towns have officially contracted the department for coverage, others — including the city of Pontiac — have entered into talks with the department about potentially contracting them in the future.

“Different communities are looking at us because they’re seeing shrinking property values,” Captain Mike Johnson, commander of the Rochester Hills substation, said. “When you see your property value fall five, 10, even 11 percent, that’s that much less tax money you have to fund services. You have to find the nonessentials to cut.”

Currently, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department has 12 substations located throughout the county.

According to Johnson, they currently serve about 25 percent of the county, or about 275,000 people.

“What makes contracting with us somewhat attractive is we have 12 different police departments, but only one range, one training facility, one human resources department,” Johnson said. “It’s so much more cost effective.”

Johnson cited that while his Rochester Hills substation has 60 police employees, he has only two civilian employees.

“Some stations have half the amount of guys I have, so maybe just 30 deputies, but they have five or 10 civilian employees,” he said. “I’m able to do it with just two though, because of the support system we have through the department.”

Although many of the towns have not decided to contract with the Sheriff’s Department for police coverage as of now, Johnson said they have seen a rise in towns looking to contract with the department for dispatch services.

The Rochester Hills Fire Department, for example, recently contracted fire dispatch services with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department. Johnson said that this contract could save the city between $700,000 and $800,000 a year.

The department is contracted for fire dispatch services for 10 stations, and for police dispatch for five or six stations, according to Johnson.

In addition to seeing financial trouble within the local police departments, Johnson said the sheriff’s department has been hit hard with budget cuts for the past few years as well.

He said that they have lost 137 deputy positions in the past few years, and that many of their support services including marine, aviation and crime lab units have experienced significant cuts.

The situation is similar in Macomb County. Captain Tony Wickersham, chief of staff for the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department, said that their department has been experiencing budget cuts for the past four years and have been told the cuts may last a few more years.

“The government runs on tax revenue and when property taxes drop, the amount of revenue being taken in is less and we’re forced to make adjustments,” Wickersham said.

Wickersham said the department has been analyzing many cost-saving measures, including examining overtime figures on a daily basis.

The Macomb County Sheriff’s Department has provided police coverage to townships without police departments for a number of years, primarily to Macomb Township, the Township of Lenox, Washington Township and Harrison Township.

In 2005, it also was contracted for police coverage of Mount Clemens after the city disbanded their police department due to financial difficulties.

According to Wickersham, no other town police departments have indicated plans to contract the sheriff’s department yet, however, consolidation has been a popular means of saving money in the area as well.

“Most cities that have their own police department want local control and officers who are living in their community who can respond to the community’s needs,” Wickersham said. “One of our big things, though, is consolidating services, especially dispatch service. Instead of each station having its own dispatch station, they pool their resources and it saves the taxpayers money.”

Currently, the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department is contracted for dispatch services for Eastpointe, the City of Roseville and Saint Clair Shores.

Johnson is optimistic about the future of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department in spite of impending budget cuts.

“We’re going to do the best we can,” Johnson said. “I think we’re in a pretty good position compared to other departments where they’re losing 50 percent of their department. It’s a whole different kettle of fish in places like that.”

Wickersham also said the Macomb County Sherriff’s Department is working to minimize the effects of budget cuts on its services.

“We’re just looking at where we have to go from here,” Wickersham said. “We have a job to do. We’re going to continue providing the services that the public expects, even with less financial resources.”