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Changing of the guard in Clarkston

September 01, 2010 - As of 11 p.m., Sept. 3, Clarkston Police is no more.

Police duties will shift from city officers to Oakland County Sheriff's deputies stationed at Independence Township substation.

"I'm sure you're going to do a great job," said resident Becky Summerlee to Lt. Dale LaBair, substation commander. "But a lot of us are really attached to our Clarkston Police Department and we're losing them, so there is a very high expectation."

LaBair agreed it's a sad day and spoke highly of Clarkston Police Chief Dale LaCroix, saying they "go back a ways."

"Small police departments are hard to manage, hard to operate efficiently and he's done an outstanding job," LaBair said. "We'll miss him and I know I have some awful big shoes to fill."

LaBair said he sat down with LaCroix to discuss where the "problem areas" are and assured the small crowd present that he and other deputies were capable of handling the issues.

"Both the sheriff department and Independence Township want this to succeed. We fully intend to participate with whatever we need," he said. "If that comes to pass and we are your law enforcement agency, we are going to do what we have to do."

However, LaBair also explained things wouldn't be completely the same and there would be limitations.

"Are we going to have people specifically dedicated to the city? We're going to see what we can do to make the balancing act. I can't tell you they're going to be there all the time. I can't tell you the availability of the deputy is going to be the same as having your own officer," he said. "We're going to do the best we can with the resources we have."

Currently the substation has 28 officers on duty, two of which are specifically assigned to neighborhood patrol.

While City Mayor Stephen Arkwright and Councilman Chuck Inabnit were on the police committee, Lt. LaBair volunteered his time to attend every meeting, helping the city make the decision to hire Chief LaCroix, Arkwright said.

"I have found Lt. LaBair to be above board, in everything he's done. Every time he's given me his word, it has been his word. I would even say he gave us a pretty good nudge when hiring the chief because I think we were prepared to make a mistake and I think you were critical in that," Arkwright said. "From my experience with the lieutenant in a whole different way, he's been nothing but cooperative and I would expect nothing to change in that light. If he says he's going to deal with a problem, I think he's going to address it."

Some areas of concern in the contract for council members and members of the public included a five-percent penalty for late payments from the city to the township, and making sure the city gets equal service as the township.

Arkwright said he would have liked to negotiate a lower late fee, but explained the city has been late with payments in the past.

"The five percent should not be an issue," he said. "Let's pay our bills on time."

Considering services they are to receive from the sheriff department, Arkwright said he felt a letter signed by both LaBair and Supervisor Dave Wagner made it clear their intent.

"I think it does say that we're going to get the same services they deliver to the township," he said. "I think they went beyond the call of duty in writing the letter to further explain what they're going to cover. To me, that's satisfactory."

The council voted unanimously to approve the intergovernmental agreement between the township and the city, contingent upon the outcome of the millage recount by the county, also being done on Sept. 3.

"I realize this has been a very difficult issue for the community as it is in every community that deals with this. I realize it's an emotional issue and I think everyone of our hearings has been polite, respectful, and I appreciate that. I think that's indicative of the community we have," Arkwright said. "It is a wound and it's a tough wound and I understand that, but I'm hopeful we can move forward now."

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.
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