are fewer cops on the road in Northern Michigan.
In Benzie County, Sheriff Rory Heckman is afraid criminals have taken note.
In one case, a would-be gas station stick-up man told a clerk he would
come back and rob the place once the cops had knocked off for the night.
Last month, there were two more opportunistic crimes -- at Pinecroft golf
course, just outside of Beulah, thieves somehow made off with six golf
carts. At the Watson Benzie car dealership in Benzonia, tires were stolen
from a Jeep and concrete blocks were left in their place.
These were conspicuous crimes Heckman suspects never would have been
attempted had the perpetrators needed to worry about patrol cars rolling
These things all occurred after the police are gone, Heckman said. Why
do you think they occur? Because criminals know nobodys out there.
Across Northern Michigan, some departments have struggled during the
economic downturn to maintain 24-hour road patrols.
Cuts have been bad in Kalkaska County, but not so bad that overnight
patrols needed to be scrapped.
Kalkaska Sheriff David Israel said he was able to work with county
commissioners to cover gaps.
I experienced a big problem, a quarter million dollars out of my budget
in January, Israel said. Its nobodys fault. Its the economy.
Israel said he had to lay off five positions -- two full-time and three
A shake-up at the state police means the trooper assigned to Kalkaska
County will work out of the Houghton Lake post, meaning even less police
coverage for the county.
Youve always got to prioritize, said Kalkaska Sheriff
David Israel. A barking dog might be the last thing that gets looked at.
His main worry, though, was being able to maintain 24-hour road patrol.
In order to continue to operate round-the-clock, Israel said he needed to
replace an officer who will retire in July.
I think the com-missioners listened to that and they saw clear to allow
me to fill that spot, Israel said.
Israel said he also needed to change the shifts deputies work from eight
hours to 12 hours.
You always have to rob from road patrol to make everything work, he
said. I gave up some supplies and some cars to avoid layoffs.
Otsego County Undersheriff Matthew Nowicki said budget problems have been
chipping away at his department for the last decade.
Weve not been replacing people since 2001, Nowicki said.
That means the department has gone from staffing 11 road patrol deputies
and one detective to employing seven road deputies and no detective today.
During the same period, the countys population grew by 3.7 percent,
according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
We do not operate 24-hours and havent for a while, Nowicki said.
When needed, state police or officers from the Gaylord Police Department,
who are deputized, respond to major calls.
The sheriff department does not patrol county roads between midnight and 6
a.m., Nowicki said. Its been two years since there were full-time patrols
in Otsego County.
Lets say someone calls at one in the morning and its not a homicide,
but someones doing something, theres something going on in a
neighborhood, ... maybe they suspect that a drug deal is going on,
Nowicki said. You may not get a response until morning.
Nowicki said most residents are unaware there is such a gap in police
Most people dont realize law enforcement isnt there until they need
it, Nowicki said.
Elsewhere, budget problems havent been as severe or theyve been handled
Antrim County Sheriff Daniel Bean said there have been no cuts recently at
Our commissioners have been excellent in heading off any issues, Bean
said in an email.
In Manistee, Sheriff Dale Kowalkowski said long-term planning by county
officials has enabled his department to weather the economic storm without
CRIME OF OPPORTUNITY
There hasnt been 24-hour road patrol in Benzie County since before
Heckman took office. Heckman said hes only seen his budget slashed since
When serious crimes or crashes occur after hours, deputies are called in
from home or stay late after their shifts to handle the trouble.
Thats what happened on April 3, 2008, when two men decided to take
advantage of the lack of overnight road patrol to stage a robbery at the
Shell gas station in Honor.
The men, David Matthew Connell and Kasey Lee Allan, tried to recruit the
clerk to assist with the robbery.
The clerk refused, but Connell, at six feet four inches tall and 280
pounds, was able to intimidate the five-feet-four-inch-tall station clerk
into at least pretending to cooperate.
Out of fear she pretended to play along, the investigators wrote.
The clerk called the police immediately after the men left the store.
When the men returned just after 3 a.m., police, who stayed on after their
shifts, were ready. One deputy hid across the road, one hid in bushes near
the station, and two state police troopers waited in a car nearby, ready
to launch a pursuit.
The staged robbery took about three minutes. The men wore masks and used a
BB gun that looked like the real thing.
The next thing the deputies heard was the sound of the men bursting out of
the store yelling, Lets go! Lets go!
The police followed and Connell, 23, and Kasey, 21, were arrested without
Police recovered a pillow case filled with cash and three cartons of
Marlboro cigarettes. The men were later convicted.
Heckman sees that crime and the two recent larcenies at the car dealership
and the golf course as bad signs.
If these dummies can figure it out, ... its sad, he said. Theres a
lot of stuff that goes on at dark and I think a lot of the criminals know
that theres nobody on the street.
Last year, $300,000 was cut from the budget and the department lost four
and a half positions.
The department no longer has a detective bureau. Elsewhere in the
department, grants and fund-raisers fill gaps. A grant last year paid for
an open water marine patrol boat that will have to largely sit idle this
summer because the department cant afford to keep it in the water. A
fund-raiser pays much of the cost of a K-9 program.
One of the departments patrol cars has over 100,000 miles on it, way too
much for a car thats supposed to be on the road doing police work,
Its not like Im asking for Dodge Hemi police cars and all this crazy
stuff, Im just asking for basic stuff to get the job done, Heckman said.
The county board just doesnt take public safety seriously.
Heckman has decided hes had enough.
When people ask me how come youre not going to run for reelection, its
because of that, its because of the contentious relationship Ive had
with the county board, he said.
Heckman said neither he nor his undersheriff, William Sholten, plan to run
again when their terms expire in 2012.
Roland Halliday, a county commissioner who took office this year and has
not been through a budget process, said he believes Heckman has done a
great job given
limited resources and he would be sorry to see him go.
He said he would like to get the department what it needs, but money is
People need police protection, they need ambulances and 911, Halliday
said. As a commissioner I would like to do more than talk about it.