Police department gets military surplus Humvee despite Collison’s opposition

By Ralph Echtinaw

City council approved the acquisition of a 1989 military surplus Humvee from the Clare Police Department Tuesday.

Police Chief Richard J. Ramereiz Jr. said it will be used to get into places where patrol cars can’t go, such as off road and through flooded areas.

“It’s like a dentist or doctor,” Ramereiz said. “You don’t really want it, but you’re glad it’s there when you need it. (Other police departments) have used (Humvees) for disaster response, removing debris from the roadway, getting emergency personnel into areas that are inaccessible and getting people out of areas where they’re stuck.”

The Humvee is diesel powered with an automatic transmission and four-wheel drive and is equipped with a winch. However, it’s not air conditioned, doesn’t have a key and doesn’t lock. So Ramereiz will keep it inside when not in use.

Ramereiz looked at several surplus Humvees over the last few years, and until now they have been in rough condition. “This one fits the bill,” he said. “Clare took very good care of it.”

The city acquires the vehicle at no cost but must pay for maintenance and repair. “I don’t see a ton of money being spent on this,” Ramereiz said. “The majority of things that would be needed for it we could obtain from the surplus program. If this was going to be a money pit there’s no way I would even look into it. One: I’m not going to waste money on equipment that constantly needs to be repaired. Two: I don’t want the militarized appearance. I don’t want our guys out there looking like first platoon coming in to impose martial law.”

Councilman Roger Collison was the sole vote against the Humvee. “I don’t think we need it,” he said. “Is it a positive conversation piece or negative? Having a military police presence in the city. I don’t know…if it makes sense having a military Humvee patrolling the town or not. It’s 32 years old, which is another concern. I talked to some mechanic people who said it would be difficult to get parts.”

Ramereiz believes the Humvee will make citizens more likely to approach officers to converse, which humanizes police to people in general.

“There is a hesitation, even though we’re in a small town, of people wanting to talk to the police for whatever reason it is,” he said. “I don’t believe we have a large group of people who are against law enforcement. It’s far outweighed by those who support law enforcement.”

Ramereiz continued: “I don’t think it gives off the essence of a military vehicle. There isn’t a gun turret on it. It isn’t olive green or desert tan. It’s a black-and-white vehicle with a wrap on it. The wrap is an American flag with eagles on it. It is not armored. It doesn’t have a giant battering ram on it.”

Councilman Bill Leonard spoke in favor of the Humvee. “If you can save one life with that vehicle it’s well worth it,” he said. “As far as the military perception I don’t think so. As the chief was saying it’s not military big four star general stuff on it. You want to talk about perception let’s look at the world we live in. I think people would be happy to see something like this.”

Collison spoke up again. “I’m not sure about which way it would be perceived by the community,” he said. “It wasn’t something I have a firm belief in one way or another. But I’ve been thinking a lot about it the last couple weeks.”

“Kids will love it,” Leonard said.

“We’re always going to have those who are against anything we do,” Ramereiz said. “I would welcome any of those conversations.”

One thing they will NOT use the Humvee for is pursuit. Ramereiz drove it here from Clare, and the top speed was 60 mph. “There’s a time to get there fast,” he said. “And there’s a time to (just) get there.”

Ramereiz plans to give local businesses an opportunity to have their names put on the side of the Humvee. “I would like to reach out to local businesses to see if any would like to donate to the cost of a new vehicle wrap like Clare PD did,” he said via email. “Those that would like to donate towards the cost would have their business logo placed on the wrap. I would like to see a vehicle wrap that makes this unique to the City of St. Louis and incorporates the school logo as well.”

New hire falls through

Ramereiz was on the one-yard line in respect to hiring another officer when the applicant’s fiancé was promoted to a job in the western UP, and she withdrew her request for employment.

So Ramereiz is back to square one. The open position has been advertised on the St. Louis city web site, the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards site and the Police Officers Association of Michigan site, but no on has applied for at least three weeks.

St. Louis is not alone in this, as police departments throughout the state are struggling to remain fully staffed.

“Sheriff (Mike) Morris and I are in the same predicament,” Ramereiz said. “He is short staffed by three people on the road. With the situation in the jail with Covid and people all have contact tracing and being sick themselves. If it gets worse he could possibly have to start pulling deputies from road patrol to maintain the jail. He is going to the Delta College (police academy) graduation Friday, as am I, and we’re going to see about talking to potential recruits over there. We’re also planning to go to the Lansing Community College police academy graduation as well later this month and do the same there; trying to get people to apply. I haven’t gotten any applications in a few weeks. The postings are still up. And if you go on there it’s basically the state of Michigan that’s looking for people. You can throw a rock in any direction on the map and you’re going to hit an agency that needs people.”

FYI, Morris said “it would only be a last resort to move (a patrol officer) into the jail to work. Right now I am pretty well staffed in the jail. I may have to, as a last resort, run short on my teams or could have to look at pulling deputies off from special assignments. To work in the jail is a whole different set of circumstances and is a completely different academy to attend, so I would not work a road deputy in the jail unless it was a dire situation.”

When Ramereiz graduated from the Northeastern Police
Academy in 1997 there were 58 graduates. Over the last three years regional academies average 12-15 graduates. The Michigan State Police academy used to have an enrollment of more than 200, Ramereiz said. Nowadays it’s more like 60. Many police departments, including Alma’s, are sponsoring policy academy students, paying their way in exchange for a promise of employment. Ramereiz said he may have to go that route, too.

Federal money to St. Louis

The Gratiot County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to give St. Louis $500,000 of the $7.9 million it will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act program to help pay for a new water main on M46 (from Watson to Clinton streets) after City Manager Kurt Giles requested the help.

That will cover more than half of the estimated $968,000 cost of the job that is expected to be completed next year. “We are very pleased that the county commissioners share our belief that this project has tremendous value,” Giles said via email.

Water main extension

Councilmen approved an $8,000 payment to Rowe Professional Services for a topographic survey and water main design of a water line extension from Olive and Wells north on Wells for 600 feet to improve the level of service to customers on the west side of the road. “We’re not sure when we will recommend going forward with construction on the Wells Road portion but believe it will be within the next year or two,” Giles said. The construction cost is expected to be as much as $80,000.

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