CARSON CITY — After a recent string of resignations, the Carson City Police Department is just one officer shy of not existing at all.
During the past month, three of the department’s part-time officers have left for positions with other agencies, including Interim Police Chief Jason Pattok, who resigned on Aug. 4.
At Tuesday evening’s Carson City Council meeting, Officer Phil Andres, who is now the only active officer with the police department, gave a monthly report to a council that is currently scrambling to restore order to the city’s police department.
“I apologize for the lack of information to give, but I’m only simply a patrol officer,” Andres said.
Andres delivered his report, stating that he’s noticed an increase in citizen complaints in the month of August, but it was the topic of finding a new police chief and several officers to replenish the department that steered Tuesday night’s conversation.
Mayor Bruce Tasker is currently handling city administrator duties while the city council searches for a new city administrator. Tasker said Pattok and Officer Devin Jarvie both submitted their letters of resignation to leave for full-time opportunities with the Lowell Police Department while Officer Shawna Homoki resigned to focus on pursuing a career through the Michigan State Police Academy.
Tasker said the sudden departure of the three officers is due strictly to other job opportunities, which unfortunately for the department, fell together within a very short time frame.
“These officers were offered full-time positions with other departments and we don’t offer that here,” he said. “It’s a better opportunity for them.”
A “revolving door” of officers
Tasker and other council members agreed while the sudden departure of officers was disappointing, it was not necessarily a surprise.
“As we know we get young officers and they do a fine job for us, but it becomes a revolving door,” Tasker said. “If a job opens up with full-time with benefits, they are probably going to accept that position.”
The Carson City Police Department offers only part-time positions without benefits, with approximately 128 hours available spread between the officers per week throughout the department.
Tasker said that approach tends to lead to officers working second jobs, often with other police departments.
Both Pattok and Jarvie, who will work his last day with the department on Sunday, were already working second jobs with the Lowell Police Department.
Councilman Chad Parmenter said due to the city’s small size and budget restrictions, the “revolving door” aspect of the department is to be expected.
“I don’t think for us to be a revolving door is totally wrong,” he said. “Obviously, because we are a small town and only offer part-time, people are going to be looking for other jobs. Having a veteran, seasoned chief that’s willing to be here for a while is something that I feel is very important, but I feel the revolving door is not totally a bad thing.”
The general consensus among council members was to move forward in searching for a new police chief, hoping to find a candidate within the next month.
Tasker said the city’s police committee delivered a recommendation to look for “a mature, retired person to come on to be the city’s leader.”
Mayor Pro Tem Neil Kapustka, who sits on the police committee, said the Michigan State Police Retirees Association has been contacted to see if they would have anyone interested. Kapustka said the city would also utilize assistance from the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office and Michigan State Police in the search.
Tasker said the consensus is to seek a retired officer to serve as the next chief is due mainly to provide a mentor to younger police officers, who often arrive to the department straight out of police academy.
“I think when we get brand new officers out of the academy, some of them are over-enthusiastic,” he said. “Our last police chief calmed them down and molded them into Carson City-style officers. Sometimes they go a little overboard because they are rookies.”
Andres agreed with Tasker’s observations.
“You’re looking at a perfect example,” said Andres, referring to himself. “When I first came into Carson I had four months of experience, but I still had to adapt to the small town. I will admit I did go a little overboard on traffic stops and things like that. But if we get that seasoned veteran to come in, he can direct officers in the city in the way that the citizens want.”
Tasker said in the officers’ exit interviews, the main issues addressed were desires for more pay and opportunities for full-time work.
“We knew that this was the case,” he said.
City versus county coverage
Tasker said he has had conversations with Montcalm County Sheriff Bill Barnwell about merging with the sheriff’s office, but added the council is currently focused on keeping police services within the city.
The sheriff’s office currently has agreements for dedicated officers in Crystal, Eureka and Reynolds townships, as well as the village of Howard City.
If Carson City’s police department were to dissolve, the sheriff’s office could provide coverage in the form of one dedicated officer at 40 hours per week for the city, working four 10-hour shifts, at a cost of $71,000 annually.
Currently, the city budgets approximately $120,000 for the police department, with another $40,000 coming from Carson City Hospital.
In June 2012, the police department opened a satellite office at the hospital, placing an officer at the hospital after 5 p.m.
With the arrangement, the hospital didn’t have to spend funds on an outside security firm and the city benefits from additional police coverage during the night hours. The hospital pays for an officer to be at the hospital from midnight until 5 a.m.
According to Tasker, if the city were to dissolve the police department and receive police coverage from the sherif’s office, the arrangement with the hospital would also come to an end.
“We discussed the hospital contract, but the county would not be interested at this time in keeping that arrangement,” he said.
While discussing possible coverage from the sheriff’s office, Parmenter said he was concerned with the coverage number of hours available.
“We’d move down from 120 hours to 40 hours of coverage,” he said. “The things I’d worry about is only having four days of coverage versus six or seven that we’ve been used to. I like the model that we use now.”
Tasker said both the sheriff’s office and Michigan State Police will continue to make routine patrols along M-57 through Carson City while the city works to rebuild its police department.
He added that as long as there is at least one officer with the Carson City Police Department, the department can continue to operate.
“It is required that we have police coverage,” he said. “If we were to lose our last officer, we would merge with the sheriff’s office immediately. Our main concern too is to protect our businesses and our residents.”