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Public shows support for Zeeland Police Department

By Audra Gamble/The Holland Sentinel • Nov 3, 2017 at 2:00 PM

ZEELAND — At a public forum Wednesday, not a single Zeeland resident supported the idea of getting rid of the city’s local police department.

Upon Zeeland Police Chief Bill Olney’s retirement announcement, Zeeland City Council members decided to explore options for police services for the city. While council is still considering keeping the local police department, it is also considering contracting out police services with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office.

At a work session last week, council members said they have received countless comments from the public in support of keeping the local police department.

“Why are we even here?” asked resident Dawn Rodrigues. “Everybody is happy with the police department and the police department is happy to be here. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

“I’ve been here for 28 years and I feel so safe. You can’t put a price on that,” she added.

Should council decide to switch over to using the Sheriff’s Office, the city would save up to $226,989 each year by 2020. The Sheriff’s Office already has a mutual aid agreement with the city to assist with K-9, detective services and fatal crashes.

City Manager Tim Klunder said the review of police services was not prompted by a financial need. Rather, it began after Olney’s retirement offered the city a chance to look at additional policing options.

“This was not a financial issue alone,” Klunder said.

However, the elimination of the personal property tax in Zeeland is something that concerns council members for the future.

“That does impact the city, so that is something that looms,” Klunder said.

Several Zeeland police officers attended the public forum, speaking in favor of staying with the city.

“We want to serve you,” said interim co-Police Chief Kevin Cisler. “But please let us do it with a Zeeland badge over our hearts.”

Multiple residents at the meeting expressed concern with losing the community policing aspect in Zeeland.

Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Kempker told residents the community would remain a top priority should the city decide to contract with the county.

“I realize the hometown feel,” said Kempker, who lives just outside of Zeeland. “No matter what the decision, we support these officers. That’s my role as sheriff. The quality of this community, you can’t beat.”

However, the mayor and council would no longer get to select a police chief. Instead, the Sheriff’s Office would choose a sergeant that would serve like the chief of the policing services.

“I’ve seen the passion these officers have for the city,” said Zeeland reserve officer Kevin Wickering. “They know the houses, they know the people. This is an incredibly safe community and it’s because of these officers.

“It’s not always the bottom line,” he added. “You have to look at the value. Given the numbers I see, it looks like I’d rather the city keep (local police).”

Klunder said the police services review committee would make its recommendation to council at its Nov. 20 meeting, at the earliest. Public comments about the future of Zeeland policing will be accepted at council’s next meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 6.

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