Onaway commission raises questions on police coverage

by Peter Jakey–

DURING MONDAY’S Onaway City Commission meeting, Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Darin Rabeau talked about the scheduling that goes on to cover the extra hours in Onaway. (Photo by Peter Jakey)

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All the top brass from the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Department attended Monday’s Onaway City Commission meeting to answer questions about an issue that has cropped up in the last few months regarding the extra coverage the city receives.

The city of Onaway provides the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Department (PISD) $25,000 annually to provide an additional 12 hours of coverage a week. 

It’s been that way for a decade when the city decided to discontinue the Onaway Police Department, who only had Onaway police chief Jim Gibson patrolling the community. A contract between the city and PISD has been in place since 2017, according to mayor Chuck Abshagen.

However, the mayor received an email from undersheriff Christopher Flewelling that the city was out of hours for June because of the extra coverage provided during the Great Lakes Big Rig Challenge Memorial Day weekend.

“The contract clearly says they are responsible to provide us with a minimum of 12 hours a week on average throughout the contract year,” said Abshagen. “We got this letter from undersheriff Flewelling that states, ‘Just to let you know, Onaway patrol funds are used up so there will be no more extra patrols in Onaway during the month of June.’ 

“So, they are in violation of their contract. So, if they happen to provide us more than 12-hours a week during the year, that’s because of their own scheduling.”

In attendance at the meeting Monday were sheriff Joe Brewbaker, Flewelling along with sergeants Darin Rabeau and David Whitford.

Rabeau, who does the scheduling for the department, spoke to the commission when the agenda item came up.

“In my opinion, the semi race brings in more people than the Fourth of July and we have problems to deal with  and that’s why we have extra guys for the race,” Rabeau said. “The restaurants are busy, the gas stations are busy, the bars are busy. 

“I don’t know until the end of the month, how many hours we have left. I did not see the count for the month of May, I scheduled for the race and all the money was gone, I did not know that, that’s my bad.”

Rabeau continued, saying Onaway gets far more coverage than communities such as Grand and Long lakes.

“It’s not even close,” said Rabeau. He said an unnamed township supervisor was going to provide an extra $9,000 to PISD for additional coverage for four months, “because they don’t see a patrol car out there. I told him, we would do our best, but our complaint base is Onaway, there is no way of getting around it.”

Rabeau added that another issue is that PISD has not received an increase in the contract since the start of the agreement. He also said he does not need the overtime pay.

“I come to help the community out because I love Onaway,” said Rabeau. “I spend a lot of time in this town, I help out as much as I can. If you see a car, it’s usually me, I come here quite a bit.” 

“Since the inception of this contract, raises have gone up $5 an hour per person, but the contribution has not,” said Flewelling. “There are no funds taken out for gas, millage, wear and tear on vehicles. This is all strictly wages.”

Abshagen also commente

d that he took exception with the bluntness of Flewelling’s email about the hours running out, but again focused back on the language of the contract that states that there would be a minimum of 12 hours of coverage throughout “the contract year.”

Commissioner Ron Horrocks further commented that the city makes its former police department building available to PISD and it costs $3,000 a year to keep it running.

“At the next contract time, maybe the sheriff, or (undersheriff) Flewelling, you should be over here talking to us,” said Horrocks. “That’s when we make all of our decisions.”

Brewbaker said an increase has been requested for the last five years.