TAWAS CITY – The Tawas Police Authority (TPA) Board, at their monthly meeting in March, accepted the TPA assessment report that was prepared by Alexander Weiss Consulting, LLC of Evanston, Ill.

The document is more than 20 pages long, and the board intends to contact the firm to schedule a special meeting for the consultants to present their findings.

As reported, it was in June 2019 when the TPA Board chair and vice chair were authorized to move forward on negotiating a contract with Alexander Weiss Consulting, in an amount not to exceed $20,000, to conduct an assessment of the TPA.

The firm was asked to review the department’s policies, organizational documents and structure, as well as to make recommendations to the TPA chief and board. The company was also brought on to review the TPA’s Concept of Operations and Articles of Incorporation, and to make recommendations on the structure of the TPA and the roles of the individual board members and staff. Additionally, the project included reviewing, updating and/or writing policies as needed.

Background

Alexander Weiss provided some background details in the introduction of their report. This included noting that the TPA was established in 1991 to provide police protection for the cities of East Tawas (population 2,808) and Tawas City (population 1,827). 

The TPA Board consists of the city managers of each municipality, and one council member from each city who is appointed by their respective city councils. The city managers alternate the roles of board chair and vice chair/operations manager on an annual basis.

The firm also outlined the TPA staff, but the numbers have changed since the report was complete. The department currently consists of one chief, one sergeant, three police officers and an office manager.

The TPA’s fiscal year is July 1 to June 30, and the current year budget is $647,923. The contributions from the two cities toward the budget are shared equally.

According to those from Alexander Weiss, their analysis was based on a review of calls for service data, department policy and TPA organizational documents. 

In addition, they conducted several interviews with local officials, residents and representatives of other law enforcement agencies in the region. This included the city managers and mayors from each municipality; the TPA chief; past and present board members and council representatives; TPA staff; East Tawas Business Association members; the Iosco County Sheriff; and representatives of such entities as the Michigan State Police (MSP), East Tawas Fire Department, E-911 Board and Iosco County Courthouse.

Crime and Calls for Service

The consultants drew up a table illustrating the number of part one crimes in 2018 reported to the police in Tawas City and East Tawas.

They pointed out that all of the crime and calls for service activity data includes only the events that occurred while TPA officers were on duty. During those times when no officer is on duty, calls and incident reports may be handled by another law enforcement agency.

Based on the 2018 data, the firm noted the following events and the frequency of same:

East Tawas: Murder, 0; rape, 4; robbery, 0; aggravated assault, 1; burglary, 1; larceny, 9; motor vehicle theft, 1; and arson, 0, for a total of 16 part one crimes reported.

Tawas City: Murder, 0; rape, 2; robbery, 1; aggravated assault, 3; burglary, 4; larceny, 51; motor vehicle theft, 0; and arson, 0; for a total of 61.

“As we can see serious crime is relatively infrequent. For example, in 2018 there were 11 violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault), on average fewer than one per month,” the report reads.

Patrol Operations

In the face of increasing costs and shrinking revenues, the consultants also reported that numerous communities are asking how many police officers are required to ensure public safety.

Therefore, the firm explained – and listed some of the pros and cons of – the four basic approaches which have traditionally been used to determine workforce levels: the per capita, minimum staffing, authorized level and workload-based approaches.

“In order to estimate the appropriate level of officers required for the TPA, we begin by examining ‘Community-Generated Calls for Service,’” the report reads. “A call for service in this context is one in which someone requests the police (typically by phone) and one or more officers are dispatched. It is important to distinguish community-generated calls for service from other data. First, many dispatch systems record ‘events’ like traffic stops, or building checks. They often classify these events as calls for service. It is clear, however, that these are officer-initiated activities.”

During the firm’s study period of July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, they say the agency responded to 1,226 calls for service. This data was obtained from Iosco County Central Dispatch. However, Alexander Weiss made the following note in this section of the report:

“The police department indicates that they, in fact, responded to 1,441 calls for service during the same time period. The difference occurs because some calls do not come through central dispatch. However, we have not been informed about the nature of those calls – whether they are actually community generated. Moreover, the difference in the total (215) is far less than one call per day on average.”

The firm then provided three different graphs, the first of which illustrates the distribution of calls by hour of day. They note that, as is the case with most law enforcement agencies, the peak demand time is in the late afternoon.

The second graph shows the distribution of calls by month. “As we would expect, demand for police services increases in the summer months,” the report reads. “As we can see, even in the busiest month the agency only responded to six calls per day on average.”

The three months in which the most calls for service were received were July, 179; June, 142; and August, 131. The three months with the least amount of calls were November, 58; December, 60; and March, 68.

Figure three illustrates the distribution of calls by day of week. There is relatively modest variation by day of week, when considering that this is one year of data.

Tables were also drawn up to list the communities from where the calls for service generated, with the firm pointing out that Tawas City and East Tawas accounted for 92 percent of all calls. The municipalities and number of calls are listed as follows:

Alabaster Township, 17; AuSable Township, 7; Baldwin Township, 41; East Tawas, 494; Tawas City, 630; Grant Township, 2; Oscoda Township, 15; Plainfield Township, 2; Reno Township, 1; Tawas Township, 16; and Wilber Township, 1.

In another table, Alexander Weiss outlines the most frequent call types, which are noted below along with the counts for each:

Suspicious car or person, 138; traffic crash-property damage, 57; warrant arrest, 51; domestic, 49; well being, 47; animal, 44; reckless vehicle, 40; assist citizen/agency, 39; operating while intoxicated (OWI), 34; civil issue, 32; larceny, 31; disorderly, 29; possible OWI, 22; warrant attempt, 22; harassment, 21; and alarm burglar, 20.

A table was also created to depict the agency performance, with respect to response time.

According to those from Alexander Weiss, the time from when a call is received until it is dispatched is, on average, four minutes and 44 seconds. This includes the processing time and the time it takes to find an available officer. The average travel time was three minutes, 40 seconds and the average on scene time was about 44 minutes.

“One aspect of police staffing is the shift relief factor (SRF). The [SRF] tells us the number of officers that should be assigned to a shift in order to ensure that the appropriate number [of] officers are on duty,” the consultants stated. “We calculated the [SRF] for the TPA based on benefit time off provided in the collective bargaining agreement. The formula for the SRF is Maximum Hours Available/Actual.”

According to the firm’s calculations, for each position on duty on an eight-hour shift, the TPA would have to assign 1.6 (two) officers. Six officers would be required to staff one officer on each of three eight-hour shifts to provide 24/7 coverage.

Interviews and Observations

A total of 31 individual and group interviews were conducted. The following reflects the viewpoints of the respondents, according to Alexander Weiss:

• The police department does not consistently maintain a collaborative relationship with the TPA Board, city council and community members. Many comments were made by council members and community leaders indicating that they were not sure about supporting an additional police officer(s) unless data was presented to them for justification.

• Many interviewees felt as though they were left out of the loop on the operational aspects of the TPA. A number of those interviewed did not want to micro-manage the TPA, but did want to know more about what they were attempting to accomplish.

• A lot of the interviews focused on police staffing and the role of the chief as a “working chief.” Several elected officials were reluctant to add more officers until there was a staffing study to determine the actual number of officers needed to staff the TPA.

• Several individuals commented on the recruitment/retention of police personnel. Some comments indicated the police department is not managed well and personalities come into play with operation decisions; thus, the reason for the high turnover rate of officers.

• The MSP has offered to assist with providing investigative services to the TPA for crimes against children. The police chief commented during the consultant’s on-site meeting that he was reluctant to relinquish all of these cases to the MSP, as it would take away from the police department experience in investigations.

• Many commented on the TPA facility being co-mingled with the Department of Public Works. The consensus was that it is not a good location for the police department.

It was learned Tawas City purchased some land for a potential police facility, but some from East Tawas were upset Tawas City did not discuss this land purchase. Additionally, there was some work done for the design of the police department, but it included little input from elected officials.

 

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story. Next week’s edition will take a look at assessment of policy, organizational documents assessment, recommendations.