Howard City and Montcalm County Merge Law Enforcement

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MONTCALM COUNTY, Mich. — Howard City got rid of its 141-year-old police department. It merged with the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office.

An old saying goes, ‘looks can be deceiving.’ Well, Howard City’s police cruisers now belong to the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office. Some of the decals will soon change.

Former Howard City police chief Steve Dewitt’s uniform already has changed. Monday was his first time wearing it on-duty.

“We did our best to convince [Montcalm County] that they’d look better in blue [uniforms],” Dewitt joked. However, the fact that both governments were trying to save money “it was better for us to switch to brown [uniforms] instead of all of them.”

Dewitt and two other Howard City police officers became county deputies as of March 1st. That’s the way things will be for at least the next three years. The city agreed to pay the county more than a half million dollars with the new arrangement.

“We’re probably going to average around 50-60 thousand dollar savings per year,” Michael Scott, village president said.

Scott said the negotiations took two years, and in the end it was the right fit for both governments.

“Operational cost is going up. Income is going down,” he said.

Increasing administrative costs such as, wages, liability and health insurance are the reasons cited for the move.
The list goes on. Scott said tax revenue has remained relatively flat, and state revenue sharing isn’t what is used to be. Sheriff Bill Barnwell told FOX 17 after two failed proposed millages to help fund his office, this is the next best arrangement to bring on new deputies. Also, he said the timing was just right.

There don’t appear to any changes from a citizen’s viewpoint, and the deputies will still be based out of the old department.

Dewitt resigned as county commissioner before the vote on this deal. Also, that allows him to avoid a conflict of interest in the long-term. The move from chief is not a big deal, he said.

“It’s really minor when you reflect and say ‘what’s good for your community?’ That’s what we do in public service. It’s not about us. It’s not about personal gain or disadvantages. It’s about what can we do for our town,” Dewitt explained.

“Howard city’s contract with the county expires on New Years Eve 2016. At that point, they can either renew the contract or they can reestablish their police department.

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