It was standing room only last Thursday, June 12, when people poured in to the Cedar Springs City Council chambers to air their views on how they feel about the city’s police department, and to hear what Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma had to say about what his department could do for the city.
It was just the beginning of a discussion on whether the city should hire a new police chief to replace retiring Chief Roger Parent, or contract with the Kent County Sheriff Department to save money.
At least a dozen people took the podium to talk about why they felt the city should keep the current police force intact. Their pleas were heartfelt and often poignant. Many of them had firsthand knowledge of the department—either the police had arrested someone in their family and then set them on the right path, or had helped them by paying special attention to their kids. One woman talked about the turnaround her daughter made, from hating school to graduating. “They are involved with us, they know us. If these officers didn’t have my back, my daughter could be sitting in juvy. It’s not just a parenting issue, it’s a community issue,” she said.
Another woman talked about how the officers had gotten her through so much growing up, and had helped her mother during domestic assaults. “Without these officers, my mother would probably be dead,” she said. “We lived near the Kent City substation, and took three hours for Kent County to get there on a domestic.”
A girl who just graduated said she had been in jail, but Officer Tucker straightened her out. “I’m afraid to go back,” she said.
One of the most moving was a 12-year-old boy who talked about how Officer Mandy and Sgt. Good had helped him through some tough times.
Sgt. Good also spoke about the good community policing the department does, and the fact that they have over 60 years of experience in the full time officers alone. “You just can’t buy that kind of experience and knowledge (about the community) ,” he said.
Mayor Mark Fankhauser made it clear that the city had contacted the Sheriff Department about what kind of proposal they could give the city that was as near to the services they currently had as possible.
Sheriff Stelma was humble at the podium. He told the council and audience that he had been a member of this community for almost 50 years. “It’s my community, too. I’ve raised my family here, I feel safe here, I do business here. I have great respect for the police in our community.” He went on to say he was a little surprised when contacted about supplying law enforcement for the city, and in no way wanted to degrade the professionalism of the city’s police officers. “Chief Parent has done a tremendous job. He’s a good friend and a former employee. I think this community enjoys one of the finest police departments anywhere,” he said.
Under the Sheriff’s proposal, the city could save over $100,000. They would hire our full time force, and many would receive a raise. And, if the officers wanted to stay working in Cedar Springs, they could do that. They would provide a sergeant or community policing officer at the station Monday through Friday during the day, and one patrol officer, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Currently the city has two from 9 p.m. to 3 p.m., which means there is usually one to back the other up if needed. Under the Sheriff’s proposal, a backup car would come from a nearby township if needed.
The Sheriff said that many things would be included and absorbed into the Sheriff Department such as vehicles, detective work, crime lab work, radio work, etc. “In general we would provide over 300 extra hours of law enforcement,” he said. “We are here to work with you, not against you. We are here to benefit the community.”
Chief Deputy Michelle Young said that one thing this would offer current officers is depth in their careers. “Someone with more years in may want to try to move up to detective. Or an officer may move to a different township and want to try out a new area,” she explained. “We can work with them on that.”
She explained that officers are assigned to a car for one year. She feels that the officers wouldn’t necessarily stay in Cedar Springs forever. “It would shake out in about 10 years,” she said, noting that the officers would probably move on to other areas.
The City will be creating a survey for residents, and scheduling a couple of town hall meetings in July to get the public’s opinion on the proposed changes. The entire proposal will be made available along with the survey.