We see police cars on the side of the road, firefighters racing to the scene of a blaze, and we frequently drive past our local courthouse.
Public safety and court services account for about 44 percent of our communities’ annual expenses and include more than 500 local workers.
In all, more than $37 million goes toward these services in our community.
But what really takes place inside those police cars and courthouses? Is it just like popular courtroom drama and reality television shows, or is it something entirely different?
Capt. Valerie Weiss of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department said each day and each community provides its own unique set of experiences.
Weiss has an extensive history with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department, where she worked as a sergeant since 2008. Several weeks ago, she was promoted to her new title.
“There’s never been a female in the captain’s position in our department,” Weiss said. “There (are) some big expectations, which is OK.”
Weiss has also worked in Georgetown Township for 12 years, taught D.A.R.E. classes and worked for Coopersville’s city police department when it was combined with the Sheriff’s Department — a event she said has led to many opportunities.
“When I started college, I took courses in law enforcement,” she said. “When I told my parents, I think they were a little shocked.”
But 19 years later, Weiss said she thinks she’s made the right decision.
“I feel fortunate that God has brought me to this profession,” she said.
Weiss supervises the Services part of the Sheriff Department’s Road Patrol Unit. It is comprised of command staff, the Community Policing Unit, E-Units (paramedics), the cities of Coopersville, Ferrysburg and Hudsonville, Village of Spring Lake, the Juvenile Services Unit, school liaison deputies, the Traffic Services Unit, the Animal Control Unit, the Marine Unit, the Reserve Unit and the Dive Team.
Despite overseeing a large number of services, Weiss noted that each one is different. As such, she assists in developing community policing plans that are unique to each community and meet the needs of specific residents.
“It is quite a bit of responsibility,” she said. “What we need in Coopersville isn’t the same as what we need in Grand Haven.”
Added Weiss: “Because we’re so spread out, we have to determine the need in every area and go from there.”
Weiss also noted there are opportunities to start programs in one area and, if successful, roll them out to other areas.
But the job does come with its difficulties, in particular having to notify families of deaths.
“That’s the hardest thing to tell someone,” Weiss said. “It’s awful.”
But there are also good parts of the job. The area Weiss said she enjoys most is the community policing aspect and working toward crime prevention.
“If we see an issue and take care of it before something happens, that’s great,” she said.
From cops to courts
Aside from the police who patrol our area streets, there are also people who make sure the legal system runs smoothly once people enter the court system.
That’s where Kevin Bowling, Ottawa County Circuit Court administrator, comes in to play.
“I’ve been in this business for 35 years (and) this is one of the best court systems I’ve been in,” he said. “I came here a little over 11 years ago after working in a number of other courts.”
In the Circuit and Probate courts, the court administrator provides a clear vision and leadership for the courts, and he’s responsible for all administrative functions, including strategic planning initiatives, case flow management, personnel and financial management, and succession planning.
Bowling said he and his team work hard to meet the mission statement of the county’s Circuit Court system: “To administer justice and restore wholeness in a manner that inspires public trust.”
“We’re not just a part of guilt or innocence,” he said. “How do we create and sustain a better community?”
To make this vision happen, the court has a number of programs and services it uses: drug treatment courts, juvenile education programs, mediation services and even legal self-help services.
“We want people to feel like the courts in Ottawa County are their courts,” Bowling said.
Bowling noted that he relies on the hard work and ideas of others in the department to come up with new concepts.
“It’s really a great group of folks to work with,” he said. “For me, it is a commitment to excellence that gets me charged up and out of bed. Folks are always looking for ways to improve the operations.”
Tuesday: Government at work