By Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
How long has the county had a substation? How many deputies are on patrol at one time? Who paid for the new police cruiser?
Charlevoix County Sheriff W. Don Schneider answered those questions and more when he was the guest speaker at the Boyne Valley Lions Club on Wednesday April 3—during which he gave attendees of the weekly luncheon some insight on police procedure, projects and other matters involving law enforcement.
“My predecessor George T. Lasater, in 1977, had a vision that he wanted to put a substation on the other side of the county to help the response times and serving the citizens on this (southeast) side of the county,” Schneider said. “He did meet with some resistance from the county commissioners but he pressed forward anyway and the village of Boyne Falls donated a little room over there that was attached to the public works garage and Bill Cousineau was the first deputy over there to serve that substation.”
He added, “At the time he had a patrol car and a typewriter and a phone—I’m not even sure if he had an answering machine at the time.”
Schneider said the new nearly $300,000 Boyne Falls substation has been a goal of his for many years.
“Admittedly I was butting my head against the wall but all the sudden it came to fruition and that has probably been the golden crown in my tenure so far,” he said. “It wasn’t a cheap building but it was needed. We had no place for storage and there was no place for people to speak privately with a deputy about a complaint … and it was important for me to have those response times reduced on that side of the county.”
Schneider said one of the perks of the new building is that some county personnel—like the clerk and treasurer staff—now work out of the office every other Tuesday.
“It’s 25 miles from Boyne Falls to Charlevoix—that’s a 50-mile round-trip,” he said.
When Schneider was asked if Charlevoix County District Court personnel could spend a day or a half-day in the substation to allow people to pay on traffic tickets he said he would look into it.
“Excellent idea,” he said. “That’s why I like coming to these places; people always have ideas on how we can do things better.”
Schneider was asked why Boyne Falls no longer has a village marshal.
The marshal enforced village ordinances and performed some traffic control functions.
“The village (of Boyne Falls) came to me a year ago or maybe longer … and it was expensive for them and they came to me and asked if we could assume those responsibilities,” Schneider said. “I felt that that was something I was obligated to do for them and at no charge.”
Schneider said he will have to pay any overtime necessary for his officers to follow-up on ordinance violation enforcement cases but he said it is worth it.
“It’s been my philosophy that I want to serve all the citizens of Charlevoix County and if that’s what it takes that’s what I’m willing to do,” he said.
Schneider was asked how many watercraft his office has.
“During the summer we generally have a boat stationed at the coast guard station in Charlevoix and we have a boat tied up down at the docks in Boyne City, and then we have a jet boat that we take out on Thumb Lake—so we’ve got five boats not counting Beaver Island,” he said.
Schneider touched on the multi-use garage facility currently “in negotiations” among Charlevoix County Road Commission, Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners and Charlevoix County Sheriff officials.
The proposal is to build a facility to house Charlevoix County transit, road commission and sheriff vehicles and equipment in addition to holding cells for male and female inmates.
“I think from when I first started we’re probably up five deputies,” Schneider said. “Typically I have at least one responding uniformed deputy on the east side of the county and one responding uniformed deputy on the west side of the county.”
He added, “In addition to that I have my detective Mike Wheat who handles all the major cases and I’ve got my two JOLT (Joint Operational Law Enforcement Team) team officers who work full-time who deal with drugs and I have a school liason officer who rotates around the county.”
Schneider said it is difficult for road patrol deputies to follow-up on a case because they are so busy going from complaint to complaint. That is why the sheriff’s office has detectives.
“I’ve got two cars on all the time,” he said.
Schneider said Beaver Island has one full-time deputy and a seasonal deputy who serves on the island during the busier summer months.
Schneider said one change in personnel has been Charlevoix County’s withdrawal from the Straits Area Narcotics Enforcement (SANE) Team—a law enforcement cooperative that utilizes police from multiple agencies across Northern Michigan.
“The commissioners were concerned about what it was costing us and I was concerned that we were paying on average $800 a month for a rental car for that deputy to be on SANE,” Schneider said. “Long story short, after much discussion—and it was not an easy decision on my part—we pulled out of SANE and started our own narcotics team.”
In 2009 SANE dealt with approximately 25 cases.
“In 10 months time, the following year, my narcotics officers … did 125 narcotic cases,” Schneider said. “After they got going it scared me, and it still scares me today, in our beautiful county … is that drugs are an epidemic, I mean an epidemic.”
Schneider said Charlevoix County is no different than the rest of the nation in that it has people using everything from pills and heroin to cocaine and methamphetamine.
Schneider said there are special light bulbs you can buy—which cost a couple dollars each—which behave like regular porch lights when flipped on but, if flipped off and on quickly once, the light begins to flash to make it easier for emergency personnel to find the house of someone who has called 9-1-1.
Why won’t they put a stoplight in?
Schneider was asked about the possibility of enhancing the safety of an area of Horton Bay.
Schneider said the state controls traffic control devices and even intersections like the Boyne City-Charlevoix Road and U.S. 31 area has not been deemed dangerous enough by the state to put in a stoplight.
His advice for folks planning to get help from the Michigan Department of Transportation was “Good luck.”
Crime Scene Seizures
Schneider said whatever money is seized during a criminal investigation is split evenly with the local agency assisting his office.
“I’m big on seizing money and seizing property from those folks who want to sell dope in our beautiful county,” he said. “And, what happens is if we’re doing a joint operation with Boyne City, we split those funds 50-50. And, those funds help us support that program (JOLT).”
Schneider added, “If I need more surveillance equipment or whatever that comes right out of that seizure fund—that’s not taxpayer dollars. I bought my one detective a brand new Ford Escape out of seizure monies.”
Another program funded by seizure funds are home drug test kits parents can get for their children.
“We don’t get involved on the criminal end of it. We just give those to parents for free to help them parent,” Schneider said.