Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 26, 2013

Benzie sheriff wants more deputies

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — BEULAH — Deputy Brad Rykse sometimes responds with a sense of unease to calls on his road patrol shift in Benzie County.

It’s the nature of the job to “never know what you’re getting yourself into,” Rykse said. But if a situation were to go awry, he knows there’s likely not much backup on which he can rely, a fact of life in the world of local government budget cuts.

“It’s unsettling knowing that I’m the only one around,” he said. “The sheriff right now, because a couple deputies are on vacation, he’s my only backup.”

Sheriff Ted Schendel recognizes his deputies are swamped and hopes to ease their workload by beefing up the road patrol. He plans to ask the county’s Board of Commissioners for five additional deputies at today’s meeting. The cost could approach $300,000, according to one estimate.

The department currently has 12 personnel, including eight road patrol deputies, and excluding jail staff. Schendel cited federal Bureau of Justice statistics that state the average ratio of road officers for a community the size of Benzie County is 36.

Five more deputies would allow for two people to be on duty at all times, seven days a week, Schendel said. Currently, no one is on patrol between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. Deputies are on-call for emergencies.

On days like Monday, when multiple staff members were on vacation, there can be as few as one person available for road patrol backup.

Additional deputies would mean extra security for schools during winter months, and a general assignment deputy would join the detective bureau during busier summer months. Schendel’s proposal does not include new vehicles.

Commissioner Glen Rineer said the board has had “thorough discussions” about boosting police services.

Several county board members have ties to the sheriff’s department. Vance Bates is a former sheriff, Tom Kelley is a former detective sergeant, and Lisa Tucker is the wife of Detective Sgt. David Tucker, who is expected to become the next undersheriff.

”There’s certainly some advocacy on the commission in terms of the sheriff’s department,” Rineer said.

He added, “they also feel the responsibility to the people in terms of maintaining a good, sound fiscal policy.”

Schendel said he’s leaving it up to the commission to draw up an estimated cost. Administrator Chris Olson said about $290,000 would be necessary to cover wages and benefits for five entry-level deputies, which would be a 46 percent increase from the patrol division’s 2012 audited costs, he said.

”Obviously, we’re at the beginning of looking at the sheriff’s proposal,” Olson said. “One of our largest concerns is that we have a fixed millage rate and that the general fund does need to support several county departments.”

Schendel said he’s not asking for anything “frivolous.”

Benzonia Township Fire Chief John Hamner said his firefighters respond to early-morning traffic crashes when deputies aren’t staffed. More sheriff’s department manpower would free up fire crews from dealing with traffic and allow them to focus more on the medical response.