Staffing shortages have police agencies scrambling to do more with less

By Ralph Echtinaw

St. Louis’ loss is Alma’s gain as police officer Ryan Bahlke has put in his notice to take a position with Alma police.

St. Louis Police Chief Richard J. Ramereiz Jr. called it a “tremendous loss. I wish I had more of him. He’s a go-getter, a great officer, a roll model officer, extremely knowledgeable. And over the years we put quite a bit of investment training into him.”

Fortunately, Ramereiz is getting Officer Matt VanHall back  this week after being on light duty since March. 

And Jakin Charles Clark, a 22-year-old Lafayette Township resident the SLPD is sponsoring at the Delta College police academy is expected to join the department in December. “I touch base with Jake once or twice a week,” Ramereiz said. “He lets me know their schedule and what activities they’ll be doing.” 

However, Sgt. Kristi Forshee and Ramereiz himself have been back on road patrol to fill in the blanks.

Staffing shortages have forced Sgt. Kristi Forshee back on road patrol.

“The importance of interoperability between (police) agencies is more important than ever now,” he said. “Today is the perfect example of it.”

On that day (Tuesday) state police were handling a burglary in progress on Winans Road and needed help. The only sheriff’s department deputy who could have helped was booking a suspect at the jail. A state police officer could have helped, but his car went into service. 

So Ramereiz and Forshee sprung into action.

“That’s the importance of being able to help each other,” Ramereiz said. “At the time we had multiple other calls that Alma was helping the county with. It was mass chaos. It’s the burden we all have with limited resources and staffing and trying to handle the uptick of not just complaints but the type of complaints. Things are getting more aggressive, more violent in nature.”

“We’re all going to have to step up, myself not excluded,” Ramereiz continued. “There have been multiple weeks in the last few months where I’ve been working weekend shifts, staying late, coming in early to help out with those things. We’re all doing our part. If we could find a magic spoon to attract good people we’d gladly jump on it. Until then we’ll make do with what we have and improve where we can.”

Ramereiz advertises open positions on two web sites; one of which is accessible without an account. 

Click here to see it.

However, “we are one of hundreds of agencies on there looking for people,” Ramereiz said. “It’s a tough market to compete in. We are a small agency. We don’t have the major offerings that a larger agency has for growth and promotion. It’s hard to compete with those. There are agencies offering additional bonuses, housing assistance, signup bonuses. These are unprecedented in Michigan for law enforcement. That’s where it’s come to for trying to attract qualified applicants.”

Responding to a question from Mayor Tom Reed, Ramereiz said, “I don’t see an end in sight for law enforcement in general. Officers are leaving the West Coast in droves, for political reasons more than anything.”

In Illinois, Ramereiz said, “you can’t take people to jail for certain things that are bonafide violent crimes. One of them is felony assault and felony threatening of a public official. The impact of that is driving this way. Those people don’t just stay down there. They come up here as well.”

Law enforcement in general is being unduly restrained legislatively, Ramereiz said. 

“I don’t blame any (police officer) for not wanting to do the job. You see officers out there doing their jobs, then being indicted for criminal charges because the prosecutor has an agenda. It doesn’t set well. It doesn’t set well with me. In my 28 years of doing this I never thought I’d say to myself that I don’t want to do this anymore. And I’m not the only one. I have no plans on going anywhere, but the thought has already popped up. That’s why so many officers are leaving by the droves.”

Councilman George Kubin asked Ramereiz about a question that arises periodically: Should St. Louis and Alma combine police departments?

“If things continue to drop off it may be the only answer for the entire county,” Ramereiz replied. “It’s not just an Alma/St. Louis thing.”

Paving of North Street

North Street residents will get half a new road this year thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA, which has been entering and exiting the Velsicol property from North Street for years offered to reimburse the city $42,000 for paving North from the Velsicol entrance to just around the corner at Watson Street.

The street was already in rough shape, and that was worsened by truck traffic in and out of the Velsicol site.

Velsicol had already gotten Rite Way Asphalt to agree to do the job, and City manager Kurt Giles met with Rite Way personnel to discuss it. During that time he had the foresight to remember a dilapidated parking lot on the north side of Saginaw just east of Pine and asked if Rite Way could repave that at the same time. They could and will, at a cost of $23,000. Velsicol won’t reimburse the city for that, and it wasn’t budgeted, but sufficient money remains to make it happen, Giles said. Council approved the job unanimously.

Salt barn removal

Council members approved a proposal to hire Dice Excavating of Shepherd to remove the damaged upper wood frame structure of the salt barn behind the DPW garage for $11,200.

The salt barn was damaged last November by high winds. A subsequent storm displaced the rear wall. It was deemed structurally unsound and beyond repair.

Administrators presented councilmen with a plan in June to buy a salt dome for $275,000. Council members rejected that proposal as too expensive.

Giles and company were then forced to consider other solutions and are still looking for a permanent one. The only thing agreed on is that the current structure must go.

The city will still store salt within the concrete foundation of the salt barn after the upper structure is removed but must tarp it to prevent rain and snow contamination.

More salt will be stored (and is already stored) in the adjacent materials bunkers and wastewater treatment plant sludge drying beds, which also require tarp coverage.

Also bidding on the demolition job were Best Excavating of Alma ($10,500) and Wards Excavating of St. Louis ($13,500). The Best Excavating bid was lowest but rejected because it would have required DPW workers to do part of the job.

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