BERRIEN SPRINGS — The Oronoko Township Board has revised the police department’s response protocol for calls in nearby Berrien Township. The new rules amend the policy that has been in place for 10 years.
Under the new rules, the Berrien Springs-Oronoko Township Police Department can respond to unknown traffic injury crashes in Berrien Township as well as calls from Central Dispatch, police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel on a reported life-threatening emergency situation.
Chief Paul Toliver reported that in the first instance, most crashes come in as having unknown injuries, which can usually be determined before his officers arrive on the scene. In the second instance, the new rules will allow his officers to travel to the scene without getting his express permission and act if they are the first on the scene.
Toliver said the rules won’t change in two other areas: emergency calls to the Berrien County Juvenile Center, in Berrien Township, and unusual circumstances in which the police chief authorizes officers to respond to calls and stay for the duration of the incident.
“It’s a matter of us holding the fort until the county or the state can get there,” Township Supervisor Mike Hildebrand said. “It’s not our primary jurisdiction and our officers will return once others are on the scene.”
While Hildebrand said it boils down to helping out others in the Berrien Springs community even if they don’t live in Oronoko Township, Clerk Suzanne Renton questioned why the policy is being changed now. She was the only person to vote no.
“Our police department is being paid for by our taxpayers,” Renton said. “We put the policy in place in 2009 because we had had times where we were doing a lot of calls in Berrien Township. Our concern was that our department was being diverted away from their primary responsibility.”
“We approached them (Berrien Township) then (10 years ago) to subsidize the calls we made there and we were told to stay on our side of the river,” she said. “I’m really wondering why this is coming about. I know we want to help everybody but I think the existing policy allows you to go over there. … I think this opens the door to the situation we had before.”
Others disagreed. Fire Chief Bruce Stover said Oronoko Township is probably the only place in the county where the closest car concept doesn’t work. “We had a call recently of kids trapped in a burning house and our police couldn’t go,” he said. “We would have had to call Chief Toliver to get permission for the police to go.”
Toliver noted another situation earlier this year in which Central Dispatch sent out the call that someone in Berrien Township was in full cardiac arrest and BSOT police didn’t go. “If our car had responded, we would have been first on the scene and they’d have to wait until others came before they could act and I would have had to approve it,” he said.
Hildebrand said the new rules will be in place for a year and give Oronoko Township some data to approach Berrien Township with, in terms of a contribution. “It’s premature to ask for a handout now,” he said. “Right now we don’t know what contribution to ask for.”