DELTON, Mich. (June 16, 2014) – The leaders of Barry Township in Barry County are reaching out to Michigan State Police after residents raised concerns about police department staffing and claims of harassment.
The township is a community of about 3,200, with a police force of eight: four full-time and four part-time officers. A group of 34 reserve officers also help serve and protect.
That number has some in the community questioning whether so many officers are necessary.
Township supervisor Wes Kahler told FOX 17 the complaints began with an incident involving police and a local bar owner.
“We listened to the people who were at our meeting and we decided to look into it,” Kahler said. “We are gonna ask the state police to assign an officer to this investigation – basically, the harassment and other issues that were brought up in that meeting and also the staffing level, too.”
Paul Searles, a local businessman and resident of Barry Twp, says he supports an independent investigation.
“I’ve been stopped and asked for i.d. in my own driveway one night,” Searles said.
Barry Twp. Police Chief Victor Pierce says he is investigating the claims of harassment.
“There are two sides to the coin,” said Pierce. “There are some individuals – and not all of them – but there are some who have brought forth some legitimate concerns. I’ve addressed each one of them. There are many times those allegations are unfounded.”
Locals and township leaders also have concerns about the number of unpaid reserve officers on staff.
“I just think it’s overdone,” said Searles. “There’s too many officers with not a lot to do. It seems like we’re trying to create issues. I have no problem with officers patrolling the schools.”
“Personally, I think it’s a little too many,” said Kahler. “I’m not sure what the number should be.”
If you ask Chief Pierce, the number is just about right, saying his cap is 40 reserve officers.
Pierce says a large stable of reserves mean full-time officers will have a partner in the vehicle when they respond to calls. He says this means an officer will always have backup on the scene.
“I take all the complaints seriously,” said Pierce. “The numbers may seem alarming, but when you put everything together as whole, you can clearly understand why I came to a specific number of officers.”
That large contingent of reserve officers has allowed the department to patrol local schools, something Pierce says became a top priority after the Sandy Hook school massacre.
“No department head can say it can’t happen in our community,” said Pierce. “I felt like I could do something about it. I was going to do everything in my effort to provide a deterrent. Is it perfect? No, but at least it’s something.”
Township leaders tell FOX 17 they’re finalizing the request for an MSP investigation.
According to an MSP spokeswoman, the department only investigates criminal matters… so the department could look into the claims of harassment. As for questions about staffing, MSP says it could simply offer advice.
For reference, the communities of Sparta and Otsego have zero reserve officers.
Sparta has 13 full and part-time officers; Otsego has seven full and part-time officers.
A spokesman for the Otsego Police Department told FOX 17 the insurance costs associated with reserve officer staffing are too costly.
FOX 17 reached out to the Barry Twp. clerk to find out how much money is used to cover the liability. We have yet to receive a response.
Township leaders say another public meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 23 at 7 p.m.