City commission approves public safety strategic plan

Big Rapids Department of Public Safety Director Jim Eddinger presents the department’s strategic plan to city commissioners during their meeting on Wednesday night. The five-year plan aims to be a guide for the department, from training and professional development opportunities to capital replacement plans for equipment. (Pioneer photo/Brandon Fountain)

BIG RAPIDS – A comprehensive plan outlining the current concerns and future needs of the Big Rapids Department of Public Safety is something Director Jim Eddinger has worked on for more than a year.

As one of the study session subjects at the Big Rapids City Commission meeting on Wednesday, Eddinger and Deputy Director Steve Schroeder presented an overview of the five-year strategic plan designed to guide the decisions and direction of the public safety department.

City commissioners unanimously approved the strategic plan later in the meeting.

During the presentation, Eddinger said he didn’t fully understand the importance of the department’s first formal strategic plan until he began working on it.

“One of the things any agency needs is direction, and some sort of vision,” Eddinger said. “Without those two things, we sort of just spin our wheels.”

Stressing the importance of the department’s mission statement to work together with the community to provide a safe place for people to live, work, learn and visit, Eddinger said the strategic plan focuses on areas to keep that mission at the forefront.

Comprised of one part-time and 18 full-time police officers, as well as the six service officers from Ferris State University, and nine full-time and 17 part-time firefighters, Eddinger said having the public’s trust and continuing the efforts to bridge any gap is vital to DPS’ success.

“Our budget is $3.8 million,” he said. “It’s the biggest ticket in town and we’re well aware of it. When we spend money on things, we make sure we need them, and not just on things that we want.”

The plan, Eddinger added, also will be used as a measuring tool for the department, with a focus on the development of employees and their equipment.

Eddinger said it’s important for officers and firefighters to have up-to-date training and professional development programs available to them.

“As a smaller department, there are not a lot of ways to go upward,” he said. “With that in mind, we have to prepare people not just for this career, but for their next career.”

While training personnel does have a cost, Eddinger said finding alternative ways to get it completed is essential.

“Training is the bedrock of today’s success,” he said. “Our training committee decides what needs to get done. They take stock in what we have and what we need.”

He noted the department uses different ways to achieve those goals, from sending employees to a training session so they can pass on the information, to also having employees take courses to become trainers, so classes and opportunities can be had locally.

Community-based partnerships with Spectrum Health and with local banks also provide key tools for officers and firefighters.

One major portion of the strategic plan is its capital replacement plan, which outlines the necessity to have a plan in place for when to purchase and replace equipment, Eddinger said.

“If we’re going to be the jewel of public safety in west Michigan, we can’t have some of the older equipment we have,” he said. “I’m not ungrateful for what we have — we have everything we need; but we have some hoses from the ’80s and civil unrest helmets where the plastic mask is so faded it’s hard to see.

“It wouldn’t cost that much to replace those, but it’s something we should get right on.”

Having a capital replacement plan in place, Schroeder said, will decrease the times when DPS has to ask city commissioners permission to make a large purchase.

“We have to make sure we’re looking at these kind of purchases,” he said. “Quite a bit of our stuff, we do tend to wait to the end for a large purchase, we kind of wait to the last minute.

“With what we need to do to have things upgraded, we need a plan to see what needs to be replaced in five years, in 10 years and in 20 years. That will help manage the cost.”

Eddinger and Schroeder also pointed out capital projects in the future will include needed improvements to the DPS building and parking lot, as well as fire trucks and patrol vehicles.

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Posted by Brandon Fountain

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