CARSON CITY — After three years on the job, Carson City Police Chief Bruce Partridge is saying goodbye to a department he helped transform into a respectable “community service” agency.
On April 30, Partridge will perform his last patrol, spending his last day as chief of a police agency that looks quite a bit different from the department he inherited upon his hiring.
“Being police chief of Carson City, it was a very positive experience, but this is the right time to step away,” Partridge said. “The town has a real quaint, home-style atmosphere. They have all of the big city problems, just on a smaller scale. I tried to figure out what the community wanted when I arrived here and worked for three years to provide it for them, and I think, together, we made it work.”
Getting on track
When Partridge was hired by City Administrator Mark Borden in July 2011, he was walking into a department that was considered unstable by city officials and community members.
The department had just undergone short stints of leadership from three different police chiefs in a four-month period and was operating thin with just one full-time officer on the payroll.
Borden reached out to Partridge, a retired chief deputy from the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, to take on the role of chief. Throughout his first few months, Partridge expanded the department to five part-time positions, including himself.
“Depending on who you talk to, people will tell you the police department had a difficult time with the community and the community had a difficult time with the department,” Partridge said. “There were a lot of tickets, a lot of arrests. In a small town, I was really dismayed at some of the things I saw that had been going on.”
Borden said when he hired Partridge, he wanted the entire image of the department to change in a positive way. He wanted someone who could come in and reorganize the department.
“We wanted a community policing program,” Borden said. “We were never able to get that implemented before Partridge arrived, but right away he established a new culture.”
After one year, Borden said the impact was more than anyone expected.
“City Council was apprehensive when we brought somebody new on board, they didn’t want a long-term commitment not knowing what the future held,” he said. “But by the end of the first year, everyone was begging him not to leave because of the programs he put in place.”
A new culture
Partridge said he began his tenure in Carson City by viewing his job as a project, not a career opportunity.
After hiring officers, Partridge assigned them to foot patrols throughout the community, as opposed to only patrolling with their police cruisers. Partridge then purchased two used bicycles so officers could also patrol via cycling.
“When I first started here, I walked around town, I asked people, ‘what do you want from your police department?’” Partridge said. “Almost, to a person, they wanted a relationship with the officers. They see them driving by, but they don’t know who they are.”
With the city only 1.1 square miles in size, Partridge said there was no reason officers couldn’t patrol on foot or by bike. Officers began performing security checks on buildings and providing more community service, as opposed to focusing solely on the enforcement aspect of policing.
“The community simply wanted more service from their officers,” Partridge said. “They wanted an officer-friendly department.”
Partridge thinks the new strategy “worked marvelously.”
“The feedback I got, it’s very positive,” he said. “People will mention how they like seeing that, seeing their officers walking down their street.”
Partridge also acted to get the department back in compliance with the state to receive funds for training, as it had fallen out of the state’s good graces. As a start, the department joined the West Michigan Criminal Justice Training Consortium.
“We originally didn’t have any funding for training,” Partridge said. “We didn’t have a records management system and we weren’t synched with the county.”
After Partridge put the department through a successful 302 fund audit, the training funds were restored. He then implemented a records management system. The police department is now sharing its information regularly with Montcalm County Central Dispatch.
Partridge also borrowed something from his days in Kent County, implementing a directed patrol system in which officers directly focused their attention on community problems, responding to citizen requests and following up with those citizens with information regarding the request.
“I think the most important thing about small town policing is to understand if you have the time to bring something to someone’s attention, to educate them and get them to do what needs to be done without enforcement action, that’s the best thing to do,” Partridge said.
Borden said it is known throughout the community that the department has changed its image under Partridge’s leadership.
“I know people on the street would agree, if you walk up and down main street, that’s the consensus, that the department is now more community friendly,” Borden said.
Arrangement with Carson Health
In June 2012, Partridge and the police department reached out to Carson City Hospital to establish a mutually beneficial partnership. Partridge said the goal of the partnership was to form a unique collaboration to provide a better law enforcement presence after the closing of Carson City Hall at 5 p.m.
The police department opened a satellite office at the hospital, placing an officer at the hospital after 5 p.m.
After a millage designed to provide more funding to the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office failed that same year, Partridge said it was crucial to establish a police presence at the hospital as activity had been increasing at the hospital, especially in the evening.
“I think the singular thing that I am most proud of in my time here, is our personnel sharing arrangement with the hospital,” he said. “From 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., we started providing coverage, dividing the time between the hospital and the community. It worked out great.”
With the arrangement, the hospital didn’t have to spend funds on an outside security firm. The hospital pays for an officer to be at the hospital from midnight until 5 a.m. at an average cost of $22 per hour. With a police cruiser parked outside of the emergency room entrance and an officer inside the hospital, Partridge said a difference was made immediately.
“Incidents of vandalism and disorderly conduct just about disappeared,” he said. “In the event that a resident needs something, we’re on duty until 5 a.m., and are there to assist them.”
Partridge said by adding an officer to an evening shift at the hospital, especially with the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office no longer able to provide 24/7 road patrol, overall security in the city has improved greatly.
“A third of the calls that we handle would have gone unanswered were it not for this arrangement,” he said. “The beauty of it is, it doesn’t cost the city anything.”
The hospital pays about $36,000 per year for the dedicated police coverage, which Partridge says is far below the average price for private security.
When Partridge originally agreed to become the city’s police chief, he wasn’t expecting to stay with the department much beyond six to nine months, but after three years, he says he finally feels he can leave the department knowing it is on stable ground and in good hands.
“Changing this department, it was a team effort,” he said. “It was all the officers working together. I think we’ve now got a good relationship with the surrounding departments.”
Partridge said he believes the police department is in much better shape now than it was when he arrived, adding that the culture has changed to the point where he believes it will continue without his presence.
“The programs of having foot patrols, bicycle patrols, officers on duty for longer periods of times, it’s heightened the police presence in town,” he said. “It’s reduced the opportunity for crimes.”
Partridge, who lives 40 minutes southwest of Carson City in Cannonsburg, will now take a job as a salvage vehicle inspector vendor, assisting the Kent County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s closer to home and the schedule is more manageable,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t have left Carson City had this opportunity not come along, but it was meant to be.”
Partridge lives at home with his wife, Nancy Jo, and have two adult children. He said he will be happy to be able to spend more time with his family, but he will miss the people of Carson City.
“I’m going to miss being flagged down by residents as I’d perform my patrol on foot, whether people just wanted to chat or express concerns,” he said. “This city is full of great people, and I’m going to miss them.”
Borden said Partridge’s impact on the department will not be forgotten.
“He took our idea of community policing to a whole new level, and he did it on a shoestring budget” he said. “He followed his own direction, he was out there in the dead of winter checking on doors or saying ‘hi’ to business owners. Everyone has really appreciated that. It’s been a real shot in the arm for carson city.”
Police department’s future
Borden said with the department officially turned around, he’s confident it can continue successfully after Partridge’s departure.
“It really should be a seamless transition for anyone that steps in as chief to follow behind chief Partridge,” he said. “He’s got everything on cruise control and we are in good shape to move forward.”
As of now, Partridge has recommended that officer Jason Pattok, who Partridge hired, be promoted to police chief.
“Jason was looking for an opportunity when I hired him,” Partridge said. “He is not your typical college-aged cadet student. He wanted a chief’s opportunity and I think the timing is right for him to take on that role.”
Borden said discussions are currently ongoing, but a decision will be made before April 30.
“We’re still moving forward with our eye on Jason for the position,” he said. “But I’ve had some preliminary discussions with others who are interested in the position as well. We’re moving forward, optimistically, with the hopes of having somebody in place by the end of April. Chief Partridge is committed to help us move forward.”
Borden said there has been some conversation about following in the footsteps of the Howard City Police Department, which dissolved earlier this year and merged into the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office, but he said it’s unlikely the city will head in that direction.
“I think at this point that would not be in the best interest of Carson City, especially in light of our hospital agreement,” Borden said. “We certainly will continue to discuss that, but our budget is quite a bit smaller than any of the communities that have joined with the sheriff’s office.”
Borden said if the city were to join with the sheriff’s office, it would receive only half the amount of coverage it is receiving now.
“Our entire department is part time with no benefits,” he said. “Because of that we are able to offer more hours and opportunities to officers who need certification.”
In the end, Borden said he is glad Partridge was able to offer his services for as long as he did.
“We’re sorry to see him go, but we’re thankfully he gave us as much time as he did,” he said. “We certainly wish him well, wherever the future takes him.”