Zeeland City Council voted 6-1 on Monday to keep the city’s police department after months of research by a police services review committee. Councilman Schyuler Wilson was the lone “no” vote.
“This is the best thing for the community,” said interim Police Chief Tom Ball.
After the retirement of Chief Bill Olney, the City Council voted to establish the committee to decide whether the city should keep the department or contract with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office. The committee has been meeting privately since May, and hosted a couple of public input sessions where it heard overwhelmingly from residents and police officers that they wished to keep the police department.
The committee gathered a wealth of data from the county and other municipalities during its research.
“I started out saying we should keep our police, but in the meantime I learned a lot of things,” Mayor Kevin Klynstra said. “Talking to the county, I swayed a little more to the other side. But listening to the people, I decided to vote to keep them.”
A 133-page public report released by the committee shows research into the service levels of contracting with the Sheriff’s Office. The committee also reached out to nearby municipalities, which responded positively when reflecting on their services with the Sheriff’s Office.
The committee also sought financial information from the county on various options for levels of service and what the cost to the city would be. Although this would provide some savings to the city, in the end the committee decided the potential savings between $73,000 and $228,000 would not be significant.
“Ultimately, the recommendation came about from the standpoint is there was not significant (desire) from the public to move away from the police department,” City Manager Tim Klunder said. “We’re continuing to hear that even after we released what we found from the county.”
Klunder said input from residents during the public input sessions showed the community is “happy to pay that cost” based on the level of service it is getting from the police department. He acknowledged the large amount of public input that was given to the committee and council members throughout the process.
“We continue to acknowledge the services provided by the police department are excellent,” Klunder said.
Along with keeping the department, the committee’s recommendation included that a search for the next police chief would need to begin. Olney was with the department for more than 16 years.
Currently, there are two interim chiefs who were appointed in October: Ball and Cpl. Kevin Cisler. The two are splitting the duties between administrative and operational tasks. These roles will last throughout the chief search process, and a committee will be established.
Klunder said the plan is to have a committee appointed at council’s next meeting. The process will likely go through the first quarter of 2018, with a possible appointment in May.
Both Ball and Cisler declined to comment on the search at this point.
Throughout the committee’s evaluation, the police department was unsure of the changes coming, Cisler said.
“Of course, anybody is going to be unsure of change, but we did very well at maintaining what we do at the highest level,” he told the Sentinel. “People were maybe unsure of what was going to happen with their jobs, but I think through it all it didn’t reflect on the quality of work.”
Its nine full-time and two part-time officers are thankful for the support of the community and City Council, Cisler said.
“We truly feel that we are vested here,” he said. “We want to do what’s best and we want the community to feel like they can turn to us.”