IONIA — When Dale Miller was elected as the new sheriff of the the Ionia County Sheriff’s Department in November, he took on the position with a mindset to make the department more proactive rather than reactive.
Six months into the job after starting on Jan. 1, Miller says the road to achieve his goal has proven to be longer than expected with the occasional bump here and there, but believes the department is on the right track to improving and bettering itself.
“We’re moving forward and trying to update our policies and a lot of our procedures,” he said. “The changes I’ve been trying to make haven’t happened as quickly as I wanted and I’ve realized it may take some more time.”
Miller was elected in the stead of Dwain Dennis, who retired at the end of 2012 after serving 14 years as the Ionia County sheriff.
The first of several changes Miller said he had to enact was finding a new undersheriff for the department.
Miller previously held the position prior to being elected as sheriff and has served 26 years of law enforcement in the Ionia County Sheriff’s Office, holding the positions of deputy, narcotics investigator, sergeant, lieutenant and detective lieutenant, so he made it his No. 1 priority to find the right person for the job.
“It turned out to be quite challenging,” he said. “I spent a lot of the first month looking for our undersheriff. I found an excellent candidate there, someone who’s got the energy and sees things kind of the way I see them.”
By February, Dennis had found his man. A 16-year veteran, Detective Sgt.Charlie Noll accepted the position and the challenges that came with it.
“I’m the sheriff’s No. 2, so I’m in charge of the operations of the entire department,” Noll said. “That’s a change from being in charge of just the investigative end of cases. I’m now in charge of the jail, too, and that’s been a challenge learning about that. I’m still learning on a daily basis.”
Noll said he was glad Miller sought him out for the position of undersheriff, stating the two have always had a good working relationship while working in the department together.
“In my mind, the sheriff and I have had a relationship here since I’ve been here, and we’ve always got along,” he said. “We don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything, but that’s what makes us successful. I knew there were some changes that needed to be made to make this an even better agency and I was happy to hop on board and make that happen.”
Miller said the biggest challenge he’s faced in six months at the head of the department is filling positions throughout the department, accordingly.
“The biggest challenge has been staffing, then identifying our management structure,” he said. “My administrative staff and our supervisors are being asked to do a lot more and now have more responsibility.”
Since January, Miller has also selected the new Ionia County jail administrator, Capt. Mark Jones, as well as two new deputies, Chad Baarda and Jeffrey McNeil.
“We had openings in corrections, openings in court security and we are dealing with all of those changes, as well,” he said. “But I think we are moving in the right direction. We’re making positive changes.”
The next goal on Miller’s list is continuing to develop ways to get the department better acclimated with the communities and community groups throughout Ionia County.
“I think we’ve made significant progress as far as getting personnel in place and establishing good relationships with local groups,” he said. “Things aren’t exactly where we want them yet, but having identified our goals and seeing us move toward them is a big positive.”
Miller said the first step in that direction was establishing the new mission statement of the department, which reads: “The mission of the Ionia County Sheriff’s Office is to provide a professional, ethical, and committed law enforcement service to all citizens of Ionia County while partnering with community leaders, citizens, businesses, and employees to decrease crime and encourage growth within our communities.”
The final challenge, says Miller, is working with the challenges of budget cuts and funds that may not always be available.
“We had to become a player in the county’s overall budget,” he said. “We provide the service we want with the money available to us. We’ve made some cuts, some changes in how we do things, in order to save funding, but, overall, when it comes to our staff, the Ionia County Board of Commissioners has been real supportive of providing me with enough funds to allow us to provide 24-hour coverage, seven days a week.”