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Sheriff submits proposal to take over village policing

November 03, 2010 - Clarkston did it.

Pontiac is in the process of doing it.

Could the Village of Oxford be the next community to contract with the Oakland County Sheriff's Department?

A proposal to provide both police and dispatch services was submitted to the village last week by the county.

"In these economic times of property values dropping 35 to 50 percent, quite frankly, all these police departments can't survive," said Undersheriff Mike McCabe, who lives in Oxford Township. "By necessity there has to be some consolidation and who wins in that? The citizens win because you reduce costs and you deliver better service."

The sheriff's proposal for police services contains four staffing options, which could potentially save the village hundreds of thousands of dollars over what the municipality is currently spending and "deliver the same or better service than (village officers) currently provide," according to McCabe.

Currently, the village has a total of $853,227 budgeted for police and dispatch services. That breaks out to $581,223 for police and $272,004 for dispatch services.

Sheriff options 1-3 range in cost from $606,664 to $740,237 per year with staffing scenarios that include four deputies with or without a detective sergeant to man a village substation. Prices include dispatch services.

Option 4 is to partner with the township, which already has a substation staffed by 15 officers, to provide coverage for both the village and township. No numbers were provided for this option as McCabe said staffing levels and the village's financial contribution are issues that would have to be worked out by local officials.

However, he noted this is the "best option" because it offers the "biggest savings."

"This could be a huge savings for both communities if we combined into one substation," McCabe said. "You could put it right in downtown Oxford. It's ridiculous to have two dispatch centers. It's ridiculous to have two sets of command staff. It's a waste of resources."

The undersheriff noted the county already polices the villages of Leonard and Ortonville, along with the City of Clarkston, as part of its contracts with Addison, Brandon and Independence townships. Brandon's substation is located in downtown Ortonville.

When asked if the sheriff's department could take over policing Oxford Village without adding any deputies to the township substation, McCabe replied, "Absolutely, it's possible. Is that something I would recommend? I might recommend that they add maybe one or two (deputies)."

He pointed out that Independence Township didn't have to add any deputies when its substation took over policing Clarkston.

The sheriff's department currently provides contracted police protection to 15 communities – two cities, two villages and 11 townships.

"That represents about 280,000 people in the county," McCabe said. "If you think about it, there's 1.2 million people in the county and roughly 1-in-4 people has the sheriff's office as their local police department."

Those worried about losing local control under a county contract needn't fear because McCabe said municipalities have more control, not less.

"The contract's got a 90-day cancellation clause," he explained. "If you don't like us, you can get rid of us. It's pretty hard to fire your own local police department."

Deputies or command staff who aren't working out in a community for whatever reason can be transferred upon request.

"Our deputies know that if they don't make the customer happy, they can be removed," McCabe said. "We don't have to do it very often. In my 33-plus years here, we've had to do it about six times."

When an officer employed by a local police agency isn't working out, the community is "stuck with him."

"Unless you can dismiss him for cause, you can't get rid of him," McCabe said.

Those worried about losing the personal touch often provided by local police, such as walking patrols and checking to see if business doors are locked, will be pleased to know the county tailors its services to fit a community's needs.

"We'll jiggle doors," McCabe said. "We model our contract after what the community wants. Every community's a little bit different and unique. Patrolling Royal Oak Township down on the 8 Mile border of Detroit is a little bit different than patrolling the Village of Leonard and we recognize that."

One of the biggest advantages of contracting with the sheriff's department versus having a local police department is the municipality is not legally responsible for the actions of its deputies, so it cannot be sued.

"They no longer have any liability," McCabe said. "The county assumes all the liability."

With regard to providing just dispatch services (no police), the sheriff's department indicated it can do it for the village at a cost of $26,248 per year, a savings more than $200,000 annually over the current costs, according to McCabe.

The village's dispatch budget is $272,004 for the 2010-11 fiscal year.

McCabe said the argument that local dispatchers know the streets better than anyone is "so hollow." Thanks to GPS mapping, dispatchers don't have to know the streets because "they have them on the computer right in front of them."

Currently, the sheriff's department provides dispatch services to 12 fire departments and five police agencies.

"We had six (police agencies), but when Clarkston disbanded, that dropped us back to five," McCabe noted.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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