Montcalm County commissioners look for ways to save court security

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 1:04 pm on Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Court security officer Bruce Schnepp screens a woman’s purse and laptop in the Montcalm County Court Complex in Stanton. The future of court security is unknown after a countywide law enforcement millage failed two weeks ago today. (Daily News/Cory Smith)

STANTON — Two weeks after a countywide law enforcement millage vote failed, the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners is still trying to find a way to retain court security.

A 1 mill property tax increase which would have generated $1.564 million per year for five years for the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office failed on Feb. 28 with 4,205 “no” votes and 4,085 “yes” votes — a difference of 120 votes.

Commissioners cut $400,000 from the sheriff’s department budget last year, including $65,000 for court security. Commissioners have voted twice to extend court security — first until the end of last December and again until the end of March — while they struggled to find a solution.

Commissioners on the Finance & Personnel Committee discussed the situation again Monday morning.

According to Controller-Administrator Chris Hyzer, court security currently costs $30,000 to $40,000 for a rover who splits his time between 8th Judicial Circuit Court, 64B District Court and Probate/Juvenile Court and $35,000 to $45,000 for two part-time screeners who check for weapons at the court complex entrance.

An average of 400 to 600 people enter and exit the court complex on a weekly basis.

“Do you bring guys off the road for court security? Do you just eliminate court security?” Hyzer asked. “You have to look at the risk of people coming in and not being safe. They (the sheriff’s office) want to keep everyone safe, but we’re trying to prioritize. We just don’t have enough money to fund what we have.”

Commissioner Ron Retzloff of Crystal proposed taking sheriff’s deputies off the road and placing them on court security duty from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., then returning to road patrol duty from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. Retzloff said maybe the Michigan State Police Lakeview Post could respond to more calls during the day. He said if people need to speak to a sheriff’s official between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., they could drive into Stanton to talk to someone at the sheriff’s office.

“We do need court security,” Retzoff said. “People are pulling guns out and shooting people all the time and I’d hate for something to be our fault because we don’t have court security.”

Commissioner John Johansen of Montcalm Township said an attempted assault on an area judge was recently thwarted by court deputies. He said jurors who decide cases could be placed in more danger if court security is eliminated.

“I think we owe our own employees the protection, but I think we’re missing the fact that we owe it to our general public,” Johansen said. “I would hope that the sheriff would start looking to townships to help fund some of the sheriff’s coverage. Maybe there has to be a shift of responsibility.”

The issue of court security will likely be discussed again at the regular Board of Commissioners meeting March 26.

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