The Hillsdale County Sheriff Department cut the mid­night patrol shift on Nov. 4, decreasing police presence between mid­night and 6 a.m. | Facebook

Hillsdale County Sheriff Tim Parker sighs as he looks over a sheet scribbled with shifts for the week –– he just doesn’t have enough officers to fill all of them. 

Like many sheriff and police depart­ments across the nation, the Hillsdale County Sheriff Department can’t find enough qual­ified appli­cants to fill all of its open posi­tions. This has forced Parker to cut the mid­night patrol shift.

The shift reduction began Nov. 4, decreasing police presence between mid­night and 6 a.m. 

“I’m cutting the mid­night patrol due to a loss of cer­tified road patrol deputies,” Parker said. 

Two deputies are on leave, serving the mil­itary. Two more resigned to take higher-paying posi­tions. A fifth is recov­ering from a severe crash. 

“This brings me to five deputies that need to be replaced,” Parker said. “But I cannot replace the two that are on mil­itary orders or the one on medical leave.”

Federal law pro­hibits replacing deputies away on mil­itary and medical leave. 

“Finding qual­ified road patrol staff is chal­lenging in today’s market,” Parker said. “A best-case sce­nario would be two new hires imme­di­ately, which would entail at least three to four months of training.”

The Jonesville Police Department faces similar chal­lenges.

“We’re having the same problems as Hillsdale County,” Jonesville Chief of Police Mike Lance said. “There’s a shortage of police officers right now.”

Lance placed job postings online over eight months ago and has yet to find a qual­ified applicant. 

“This December, we’re going to be cutting back also on mid­nights,” Lance said.

With both the county sheriff and Jonesville police cutting back on night patrol, the Hillsdale City Police Department will have to take on more respon­si­bility. 

“Yes, it will create more work,” Parker said. “Only Hillsdale City Police have a 24/7 pro­tection program. All the other agencies are strug­gling to keep the officers they have.”

The county sheriff leads all of the other agencies in response to 911 calls in Hillsdale county. Data pro­vided by the county shows from January to Sep­tember of this year, the county sheriff responded to more than 7,600 calls. State police in the county responded to  6,200 calls. Both Hillsdale and Jonesville city police depart­ments responded to less than 4,000 each. 

As the only agency to guar­antee service in the early hours of the morning, the Hillsdale City Police expects to respond to more calls. 

“The Hillsdale City Police are antic­i­pating an increase in con­tacts from sub­jects wishing to speak with an officer,” Hillsdale Chief of Police Scott Hephner said. “This could be by phone or sub­jects coming to the city to contact an officer.”

The state police are also preparing to assist the Hillsdale City Police in com­pen­sating for the reduced county and city night patrol. 

“It won’t be addi­tional work for us,” Michigan State Police Jackson Post Com­mander 1st Lt. Kevin Rod said. “We just need to adjust our schedules to ensure we can put appro­priate cov­erage and increase the levels of officers in the area.”

The impact on cit­izens is poten­tially longer wait times, but all four agreed that crime will not increase. 

“I do expect that people may need to wait for service calls,” Parker said. “Central dis­patch will need to pri­or­itize what will need an officer more than ever.”

Parker said the cuts to mid­night patrols are tem­porary.

“I plan to rein­state patrols as soon as I have staff to fill the vacancies and they are trained,” Parker said. 

A con­sensus among the sheriff and chiefs is that the problem they are facing is a national issue.  

Lance recently returned from the Inter­na­tional Asso­ci­ation of Chiefs of Police Con­ference in Chicago and said the issue isn’t unique to the area. 

“It’s a nationwide problem,” Lance said. “It’s dif­ficult to recruit and hire people to come in and work at this time.”

Two-thirds of 397 U.S. law enforcement agencies reported in a December 2018 U.S. Department of Justice survey that they have seen a decrease in appli­cants com­pared to five years ago. 

“It’s a national trend to not be receiving qual­ified people like we used to,” Rod said. “Folks used to grow up wanting to be police officers; now, it’s a chal­lenge trying to keep up with those lost to retirement.”

Lance believes the lure of the job is still there, but the media cov­erage has an impact.

“There’s a lot of neg­ative parts to this job that have been pretty well-pub­li­cized,” Lance said. 

Officers cur­rently on the job are working longer hours to keep the area safe.

“The current staff has been working excessive overtime including back to back double shifts,” Parker said. 

Lance expressed how much it means to these officers when cit­izens show support for the men and women in blue. 

“A lot of people in Hillsdale thank us, offer to pay for meals, and help in any way they can,” Lance said. “It’s appre­ciated and the people doing the job love it because they enjoy helping people.”