Crawford County Sheriff seeks to add deputies to the force
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
With an increase in traffic and speed limits, safety hazards are squarely on the mind of Crawford County Sheriff Kirk A. Wakefield, who is seeking to add two new deputies to the force.
Wakefield gave a budget presentation to the Crawford County Board of Commissioners on Thursday, July 13, for the county’s 2017-18 fiscal year. The fiscal year for the county begins on Oct. 1.
Wakefield said a hike in traffic accidents has been an issue that he wants to address.
“My concern is traffic safety in the community is kind of going downhill, and I don’t have the staff to address that the way it needs to be addressed,” Wakefield said.
According to a yearly comparison report of road patrol activity, accidents increased from 456 in 2015 to 654 in 2016. Driving complaints when intoxicants were involved rose from 38 in 2014 to 51 in 2015. And traffic stops where verbal warnings were given spiked from 1,153 in 2014 to 1,221 in 2015.
Wakefield requested an additional two deputies to be added to his workforce on Oct. 1.
On the low end, a deputy assigned to strictly address traffic issues could generate between $141,000 to $288,000 through writing traffic citations. On the high end, between $235,000 to $282,000 in additional revenues could be generated.
Wakefield said current deputies on staff are running to back-to-back complaint calls from citizens. If the deputy stops to address a speeding vehicle, that would cut down on the adequate response time to those complaints, especially when people are arrested.
“I can’t have that,” Wakefield said. “I have to answer the calls from the citizens.”
Wakefield said his office receives $34,300 from the state, which is earmarked for secondary road patrols and traffic accident prevention. The county board budgets $10,500 for a summer seasonal officer who does traffic safety patrols on M-72 West by Lake Margrethe.
The school liaison officer, who is funded through a partnership between Crawford County and the Crawford AuSable School District, is assigned to be the seasonal traffic safety officer when school is not in session.
Wakefield said traffic issues have been addressed by the specific attention focused on the Lake Margrethe area.
“That red and blue light is going all the time out there, so people are paying attention,” he said.
Wakefield said that the second deputy would cover shifts when deputies have to testify in court or have other matters when they can’t work their scheduled work hours. That will slash a large amount of overtime from his budget.
Wakefield noted that Michigan State Police troopers are focused on traffic safety on the expressways. He said the new traffic safety patrols will double down on issues in subdivisions located near the City of Grayling, outlying areas such as County Road 612 in Frederic and Lovells, and Four Mile Road, where a large amount of construction traffic is being generated.
While traveling in his civilian vehicle, Wakefield said he has noticed many motorists rolling through stop signs, raising the potential for crashes.
“Nobody cares no more,” he said. “We’ve got to start making people care.”
The speed limit on I-75 through Crawford County was recently raised from 70 mph to 75 mph. Due to a mistake in paperwork with state transportation officials, the speed limit on M-72 East will not raise from 55 mph to 65 mph until sometime in November.
Wakefield said he continues his staunch opposition to raising the speed limits.
“They can continue to drive 10 over, but the 10 and over leeway, that’s gone in my office,” he said. “No more leeway.”
Crawford County Commissioner Rick Anderson said he fears for the safety of children riding on school busses on M-72 East, raising the concern that people will blow by the school busses when they are traveling so fast.
“To me, that’s contrary to health, safety, and welfare for the people of our community,” Anderson said.
Other county officials questioned the speed limit due to the amount of driveways, curves, and canoe livery vehicles traveling on M-72 East.
They also raised the issues of increased car deer accidents.
“It’s going to go crazy,” Wakefield said. “It hard enough to miss a deer as it is.”
The base pay for a deputy is $69,000 per year. They also receive fringe benefits and health insurance. The cost of health care insurance increases if they have a spouse or a family.
Wakefield said his office has 16 certified law enforcement officers, but only 10 that work on the road patrol.
Wakefield is also requesting 13 portable radios at a cost of $3,500 each. The current radios are over 10 to 12 years old, get beat up as deputies carry out their duties, and parts to fix broken radios are hard to obtain.
“That’s our life line right there,” Wakefield said of the portable radios.
Wakefield is also seeking to purchase a new patrol vehicle, which is usually among his annual budget request.
Crawford County Administrator Paul Compo raised the possibility that the sheriff’s office would need to buy two new patrol cars if deputies are added.
“It stands to reason, if you have a guy out there running the roads five days a week, you’re going to need another car,” Compo said.
Wakefield said he will maintain his request to replace one patrol vehicle per year.
“Before I throw that into the mix, I will try to make do with what I have,” he said.
If revenues from writing tickets will not support the two additional deputies, Wakefield said the traffic enforcement initiative would cease.
“If I can’t do it, so be it,” he said. “It all goes away.”
Finally, Wakefield is seeking more support to fund training for his deputies.
“With all things are going on in our country, training has changed and tactics have changed,” he said.