March 05, 2014 - Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard visited the Rotary Club of Oxford last week to provide some insight regarding the inner workings of his position and department.
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard was the guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Oxford's Feb. 25 meeting at the Oxford Hills Golf & Country Club. Photo by Trevor Keiser. (click for larger version)
Bouchard, who's been sheriff since January 1999, explained that county residents have high expectations when it comes to the level of services they receive from their governments and his office tries to meet them.
Whether it's one of the 16 communities that contract with the sheriff's office for law enforcement services or a municipality with its own police department, Bouchard said his agency is there to serve.
The sheriff's office offers a variety of support services to all communities including helicopters, canine units, a special response team, motorcycles, narcotics enforcement and a crime lab.
"We will go to any community in Oakland County (at) no cost, if requested, 24-7," Bouchard said,
The county has the only crime lab in Michigan outside of the state police. This allows the sheriff's office to provide quicker turnaround times for local police agencies with cases requiring lab services.
Bouchard said the county needs its own crime lab because the state police simply take too long.
He recalled a rape case where DNA evidence was submitted to the state police and it took nine months to get the results.
The suspect was finally arrested, but while waiting for the lab results, he had committed two more rapes.
"The state police does a great job, but they haven't been given the resources from the legislature to do some of the things they (need) to do," Bouchard said.
Having the right tools readily available makes a difference in terms of crime-solving rates, according to Bouchard.
He said of all the homicides that occurred last year, the sheriff's office has all but one suspect in custody and they have identified that person.
Bouchard said the sheriff's office intends to have a 100 percent closure rate when it comes to homicides.
"In a lot communities around the country, that (closure rate) varies between 13 and 20 percent," he said. "Having the tools . . . (sends) a message to the criminal that this isn't the place you want to (break the law)."
The sheriff noted that his office was not immune from the budgetary woes caused by falling property values. He had to cut $16 million from the agency's budget and eliminate 165 positions.
But none of the cuts jeopardized public safety. "We cut a number of programs that . . . didn't diminish our ability to respond to any emergencies," Bouchard said.
The sheriff's office has been able to keep its expenses in line thanks to the fact that Oakland County is the only county in the United States to formulate and follow three-year budgets.
Bouchard said the sheriff's office measures its success by how well it accomplishes its mission and how well it's "treating your tax dollars."
He noted that when the sheriff's office decided to privatize the jail's food services about 14-15 years ago, it resulted in an annual savings of $1.6 million. "That's a lot of money, even to government," Bouchard said. "Those are the kinds of things I think are incumbent on government to do differently and smarter. (We must always ask) what's our core mission and how do we squeeze the money out of the system to apply it to that core mission?"
Like a proud father, Bouchard took a few moments to tout some his office's accomplishments such as having one of only nine dispatch centers in the U.S. that's certified in emergency medical, emergency fire and emergency police dispatch protocols.
What that means is callers to the sheriff's dispatch center are immediately connected to experts who can give people instructions about what to do until help arrives.
"Often, that can save lives," Bouchard said.
Unlike many jails and prisons around the country, the Oakland County Jail is not operating under any sort of court order, it's "self-managed," according to the sheriff.
"We actually got a 100 percent rating the last time we invited an independent auditor," he said. "That's a testament to the deputies, and the men and women that work there. They run a clean shop."
Bouchard had nothing but praise for his jail personnel.
"They (keep) behind bars the people you never want to run into in an alley and they do it 24-7 without a lot of thanks," he said. "In the dark of the night, they're dealing with people who do some pretty disgusting things to them, throw things at them, say things to them and they keep their calm . . . We haven't had an escape in a long, long time and they are the reason."
Concerns about drug use, particularly among the community's youth, were expressed by Oxford Rotarians.
Although there are always trendy new drugs out there, Bouchard said they're primarily seeing more heroin and crystal meth usage.
The sheriff indicated the county never had a crystal meth problem until recently.
"It might be because (the television show) 'Breaking Bad' popularized meth . . I'm not sure. It's very, very dangerous stuff," he said. "The drug of choice may change depending on what's (being) popularized in social media or (the) movies. They sometimes make these things look more glamorous. It's anything but glamorous. Often times when somebody overdoses, kids panic and they abandon that other kid because they don't want (to get) caught."
Bouchard also encouraged parents to tell their kids that if they see something drug-related, "definitely walk away from it" and report it either to parents or the sheriff's office.
Tips to law enforcement can be done anonymously, he noted.
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.