Sheriff’s Office to utilize policy management service

MANISTEE — Since assuming the role of Manistee County Sheriff in 2017, John O’Hagan has been going through a to-do list of improvements to the office he holds.

This week, O’Hagan was able to cross off one of those items after the Manistee County Board of Commissioners approved his request to fund an agreement with Lexipol, a professional policy management company charged with updating law enforcement and corrections policy manuals.

“Policies and procedures are so important, because in our line of work we face them every day, whether it’s with our staff, inmates or the community,” O’Hagan told the board on Tuesday. “Policies and procedures are usually the first place that gets hit in any lawsuit, and we owe it to the citizens to stay up to date.

“I want to be proactive; I don’t want to wait for that lawsuit to happen,” he said. “Reducing the risk of liability: That’s what this is all about.”

Lexipol’s staff of attorneys is well versed in federal, state and case law as well as current trends and, aside from updating outdated policies and maintaining the manuals to current protocol, the company also implements up-to-date training for the local law enforcement staff.

“We send in the policies we have and they’ll say ‘yes, you can keep this, this and this, but you have to have this, or get rid of this,'” O’Hagan explained. “And if there’s a supreme court decision, or if something changes, I will get that sent to me, and once I approve the change, it will get sent to all of my officers too.

“Again, we want to be vetted. We want to make sure we’re up to date and legal. And we want to make sure we’re ahead of the game.”

O’Hagan told the board that his office attempted to update the policies in house, but quickly realized the task was too extensive for the time and size of staff available.

“We tried it ourselves, as a group,” he said. “When I first took over (as sheriff), we sat down every week to go through these policies and update them. … Legally, you have to be very careful when you make changes.

“It got to be so burdensome, so time consuming, we just didn’t have the (staff and time) for it.”

Lexipol had been on O’Hagan’s radar for the past few years, but the company just recently extended service to Michigan. O’Hagan said the Michigan Sheriff’s Association has given its blessing to Lexipol, and the two organizations, along with the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority (MMRMA), have discussed collaboratively recommending the service to county sheriff offices across the state.

So far, just one other county sheriff in Michigan is implementing the service.

For sheriff offices the size of Manistee County’s, the price of Lexipol’s initial service can cost from $70,000 to $80,000, O’Hagan said. However, the cost is being reduced by 25 percent for entities that purchase the service before March 1. An additional 7 percent reduction is available when paid up front.

“The window of opportunity is right now, so I felt I had to act on it,” O’Hagan told the board. “I know it sounds like a lot of money, but one lawsuit can be multimillions. I’d rather be ahead of it.”

With the reduced rate, the approximate price tag for Lexipol’s service is $54,762. O’Hagan said through contingency funds and e-cig revenue, his office is able to cover a portion of the cost. Because of potential loss and litigation due to outdated policies or inadequate training, Manistee County can justify drawing from its MMRMA Loss Fund (which has approximately $490,000) for the risk-reducing service.

“I really support having clear policies and procedures in place in every office and department in the county,” said commissioner Margaret Batzer. “That said, I’m concerned because this is such a short time frame and a very large amount of money. … It sounds to me like this is something that should probably be bid out to see if there are other vendors out there who might be able to provide a similar service at perhaps the lower cost.”

O’Hagan said he was not aware of similar services, especially with integrated training for his officers.

“I don’t know if we’d find a bidder that would come in under that cost,” said commissioner Brook Shafer. “And the window of opportunity is now. I truly believe that the program is necessary and should be immediately put in place.”

By a 6-1 vote (Batzer dissenting), the board approved the utilization of Lexipol at a cost not to exceed $54,762, with funds of $14,762 from the Sheriff Office and $40,000 to be paid from the county’s loss fund.

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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