West Michigan police department forced to suspend staff amid allegations and outrage

BARRY TOWNSHIP, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - There's more trouble for a West Michigan police department.

There has been a great deal of outrage from the people of Barry Township and surrounding communities over the size and alleged actions of the small community's police department. The township board even asked Michigan State Police to come in and investigate.

Now the Barry Township Board has voted to suspend 80 percent of the department's staff.

An internal audit brought up concerns that the department's reserve officers expose the township to too much liability in the event one of the reserves gets hurt or hurts someone else. The board voted three to two to suspend all 34 reserve officers.

"This has been brewing for years, I think we have a power struggle," said Mary Sager.

"We've been here all our lives, we've never seen anything like this," said Wilbur Sager.

The Sagers have lived across the street from the Barry Township Police station for more than 50 years.

"They're well trained as far as I'm concerned," Wilbur.

But, liability insurance auditors say otherwise, and now Chief Victor Pierce has his work cut out for him.

"So, he's got to prove on a case by case basis why he needs each reserve?" asked Newschannel 3's Jared Werksma.

"Well, all the applicants have to come in front of us," said Barry Township Supervisor Wes Kahler.

Kahler says unless, and until, that happens there will be no reserve officers.

Chief Pierce says that means his four full-time and four part-time officers will be flying solo.

"You don't like the idea of your police officers having to go out anywhere by themselves?" asked Newschannel 3's Jared Werksma.

"No, no, that's not right," said Mary Sager.

"We're not a little Detroit or something," said Wilbur Sager, "but you don't know what's gonna happen."

At this point the supervisor says the reserve program is under a two week review, but one group tells Newschannel 3 that they are circulating petitions to do away with the reserve program altogether. That group says they have more than 1,000 signatures.

The township supervisor also says the Michigan State Police investigation is scheduled to get underway in the next week, something that Chief Pierce says will put an end to all the controversy.