Benzie County Without 24-Hour Law Enforcement Protection, Sheriff Looking for Ways to Hire More Deputies

The Benzie County sheriff wrote an open letter this week asking the community for their help.

Sheriff Ted Schendel says his office has been extremely short-staffed for years, making it harder for him to protect the people of Benzie County.

His department is the only one in a five-county radius that doesn’t have 24-hour coverage. There is a four-hour window between the day shift and the night shift when no one is on duty.

So if someone calls 911 at the crack of dawn, Sheriff Schendel has to rely on one of his deputies to work overtime.

“Officers have to be called [in], they have to be woken up, they have to get dressed, they have to get in the right frame of mind,” said Sheriff Schendel. “We had a homicide that occurred at 4 o’clock in the morning, we’ve had break-ins that occur late at night, it’s not like nothing’s going on.”

He would like to hire two more fulltime road deputies and one full-time deputy to work at the court system. He’d also like to make one part-time corrections position full time to increase safety and decrease overtime hours.

But the county has told him there’s no money to help him out.

“They told me to cut. And I cannot cut anymore. I am at minimal levels right now,” said Sheriff Schendel.

County commission chair Gary Sauer says they do not want to dip into their general fund.

“We are all concerned about [safety]. But we have to be concerned about the taxpayers and the money they’ve made,” said Sauer. “I’m not an advocate of ‘okay, today we need three people, tomorrow we need five.’”

Sauer says a financial analysis was done in the county and the general fund will be depleted by five years if spending continues at current levels.

The county established a general millage rate of 5.29 mills in 1982 but according to the Headlee Amendment, that rate has decreased every year since. Now, the millage rate is 3.44 mills, much less money to operate the sheriff’s department.

Sheriff Schendel wants to put a proposal on the August 2020 or November 2020 ballot to help fund more staffing. He is considering a vote to change the general county millage rate or ask for a public safety millage.

“I’m at the point now where everything I’ve had to ask for I have had to go to the public to get. I’ve never gotten any additional funds from the county,” said Sheriff Schendel.

Sauer says none of the commissioners want to hurt public safety.

“When you hold the purse strings, I guess sometimes you’re thought of that way,” said Sauer.

Sheriff Schendel encourages the public to reach out to him directly with their input about the issue. He wants to gather as much public opinion as possible.