Located just west of Grand Rapids on the coast of Lake Michigan, the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office serves a rapidly growing community of more than 260,000 people. The agency, which includes 113 law enforcement officers and 74 corrections deputies, became a Lexipol customer in 2018.
After nearly 30 years with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), Steve Kempker began his term as sheriff with an ambitious goal: revamp all the agency’s road patrol, law enforcement and corrections policies and procedures.
“When I started back in 1989, our policies were in a one-inch three-ring binder; by the time I was elected sheriff, they had morphed into a four-inch D-ring binder,” Sheriff Kempker says. “Years ago, we had good policy and procedure in place. But over time we created policies as a result of specific incidents, and we found we had inconsistent, outdated and sometimes duplicative policies.”
Eager to get started on his goal, he set up two policy committees, one for the law enforcement side and one for the jail. But as he contemplated the committee reviewing all the agency’s current policies and rewriting them, Sheriff Kempker realized it would require an enormous resource commitment—with no guarantee of success.
“I sat in the first meeting and I saw dollars and cents just sitting there,” he says. “And with everyone from command officers to road patrol deputies writing policy and procedure, there was too much room for error, for not covering all the legal requirements or for injecting personal opinions into policy. Also, these people all have regular jobs and duties. I sat back and thought, this is ridiculous—it’s going to cost so much and by the time it gets done, we’re going to have to start all over because it’s going to be outdated.”
“I met with the executive team, the county administrator and our in-house attorney to review the Lexipol products,” he says. “We calculated our payroll and the number of hours it would take for us to do the work against what it would cost to bring in Lexipol, and it was logical choice. I actually slept the night after we made the decision!”
A key factor in choosing Lexipol: the ability to tap Lexipol’s Professional Services team for customized assistance in integrating the agency’s current content into the Lexipol Michigan master policies.
“To have Lexipol take our current policy content—some of which needs to be updated—and run with it, is great,” Sheriff Kempker says. “I like that I can submit a custom policy and Lexipol will work with us to get that in our manual.”
The OCSO’s vision statement stresses its commitment to “collaborating with our communities to identify and solve public safety problems.” Sheriff Kempker sees Lexipol aligning neatly with that vision.
“To have a well-oiled and well-functioning agency, you have to have very good policy,” he says. The agency has about 30 contracts with townships, cities and villages—all of whom, Sheriff Kempker notes, will benefit from the Lexipol partnership.
As OCSO continues to work through the policy implementation process, Sheriff Kempker is already seeing benefits. “The Lexipol policy content is spot-on; it covers the necessary legal requirements and best practices but without being wordy,” he says. “Our policies are getting condensed down because Lexipol’s content is clear and concise.”
Sheriff Kempker also foresees long-term cost savings—from not having to tie up personnel in policy development and updating, and from avoiding expensive policy-based lawsuits. “If you have improper or inaccurate policy and it goes to litigation, it can be extremely costly,” he says. “We have to have proper policies in place in event of a lawsuit and also have clear direction in the form of policies for our agency to follow.”
With Lexipol, Sheriff Kempker now has confidence that’s possible. “As the sheriff, you’re always thinking about whether you have the right policies in place,” he says. “Lexipol has taken that burden off our shoulders. In the long-run, this is the best thing for our agency, our county and our citizens.”