Traverse City News and Events

Green Lake, Interlochen Center for The Arts Team Up To Fund Township Police Officer

By Beth Milligan | July 3, 2019

A unique partnership could soon fund a new full-time community police officer (CPO) in Green Lake Township, with township officials and Interlochen Center for the Arts splitting the annual costs for the position.

Grand Traverse County commissioners will consider a request today (Wednesday) to approve a new CPO position dedicated to Green Lake Township through the Grand Traverse Sheriff’s Office. The department currently has 11 CPOs serving Acme, Blair, East Bay, Fife Lake, Garfield, Kingley/Mayfield/Paradise, and Peninsula townships through individual contracts with those jurisdictions. The townships pay the salary and benefit costs for their officers, a price tag averaging approximately $81,000 currently, according to County Administrator Nate Alger. The Sheriff’s Office picks up some additional costs for CPOs, including vehicles and equipment, training, and uniforms, among other expenses.

“It does increase our budget a little bit,” says Sheriff Tom Bensley. “However, it’s a good deal in that the county is getting a police officer for a fraction of the cost, because the salary is the big number.”

CPOs spend 100 percent of their time in their townships unless called to a neighboring community for back-up or emergency situations. A typical CPO will work 40 hours a week, usually in four 10-hour shifts, Bensley says. CPOs focus on building relationships with business owners and residents in their townships, providing educational outreach, and learning and responding to the specific needs of their community. “They function a little differently than regular officers,” says Bensley. “They have their finger on the pulse of the township and are there on a daily basis, according to their schedules.”

Green Lake Township had a CPO in the past, but residents turned down a millage request to continue funding the position, according to Township Supervisor Marvin Radke. “Residents said, ‘We pay enough in taxes, but we still want (a CPO),’” he says, adding that he’s been evaluating the township’s budget since he took the job in 2016 to look for ways to fund a CPO. “The budget was tight and we weren’t able to afford the ($81,000).”

Enter Interlochen Center for the Arts. Radke says new Interlochen president Trey Devey is a “huge advocate of working with the community” and has talked with the township about how the institution could provide support “since they’re a tax-exempt entity.” Discussions turned toward emergency and community services, with Interlochen eventually offering a “50 percent, no-strings attached co-pay” of one CPO position, Radke says. With the chance to add a township CPO at half the normal cost, township trustees in June approved adding funding to the budget for the position. “It was hard to turn down,” says Radke. “It was well worth it, and the benefits outweighed the costs.”

The addition of a CPO also brings significant benefits to Interlochen, according to Director of Campus Safety Joe McCarthy. “The biggest and most compelling was our leadership wanted to explore ways to mitigate risk in the event of a situation here on campus, especially as it would relate to an active-shooter situation,” says McCarthy. “We know that even if there was a law enforcement officer in Chums Corner (coming to Interlochen) at 100 miles per hour, it’d be five minutes before they were here. We felt like having a township officer helps to mitigate risk…and allows continuity in investigations here on campus.”

McCarthy that says having a dedicated CPO who could learn Interlochen’s campus layout and operations could prove critical in emergency situations. “From a safety perspective, the tactical benefit is pretty compelling of having an officer who is familiar with a campus that’s 1,200 acres and has 440 buildings and can respond to the right spot.” A CPO could also assist with a range of other year-round issues, including traffic challenges during Interlochen’s busy summer concert months and crosswalk safety for students.

Funding a CPO is one of many measures Interlochen is taking to increase campus security – a multi-pronged approach that’s also included introducing new screening and bag policies for concert events this year. Similar measures are in place at the 2019 National Cherry Festival and at concert and sports arenas across the country. “What we’ve moved to is the industry standard,” McCarthy says. “The safety of our students and patrons is paramount to (our leadership). Their expectation for my department is that we do an excellent job making an assessment of all possible risks and addressing those as effectively as possible.”

Though the new CPO will be primarily funded by Interlochen and Green Lake Township, county commissioners must still approve adding the position to the Sheriff’s Office payroll due to the extra costs the department will absorb from the role. Should commissioners approve the position today, Bensley says his department will begin the hiring process to look for a new officer. The new CPO is budgeted to begin in January, though he or she could start in late fall on a pro-rated basis for 2019 if the department is able to find someone that soon, according to Bensley.

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