Hampton Township considers public safety model, residents voice concerns

Hampton Township officials are considering a public safety model. (Jesse Gonzales)

From Portsmouth to Hampton Township, police said a serial arsonist is lighting up cars across Bay County.

Many believe there should be more patrols because of this.

But one of the areas affected may be forced to consolidate both its police and fire departments.

“They had this [gas cap] off and they had the rag right here,” Larry Janiskee said. “It was black on the bottom right here.”

Janiskee of Bay City said he considers himself lucky because someone tried to light his car on fire and failed.

But just a mile down the road in Portsmouth Township, an elderly woman wasn’t as fortunate.

“It was just a big explosion and then it was just a cherry ball of fire,” her neighbor said.

Officials said her car was torched and then the fire spread to her home.

Now, nearby residents said they fear they could be next and that the outcome will be worse.

“Someone could be seriously injured or die because of what they’re doing,” one resident said.

Since April, officials said there have been almost a dozen cars set on fire in Bay County and three of them happened in Hampton Township.

“Since we’ve had that aggressive patrol on nights… knock on wood… we haven’t had any more in Hampton Township,” Hampton Township Police Chief Bryan Bechley said. “We’re doing the best we can.”

But amidst all the chaos, the he township may be forced to consolidate its police and fire department due to funding.

Many residents said they have concerns about the possible transition.

“I’m also concerned for the increased injuries for those serving us,” one resident said. “They’re in the job they chose and now you’re asking them to do another job.”

The township’s fire chief also said he has concerns.

“The residents understand that the two jobs are totally different,” Fire Chief Randy VanDenBoom said. “And to make certain people do both, is not always the best decision.”

But the Hampton Township police chief said their hands may be tied.

”I would just assume the police stay police and fire stay fire, but we can’t afford that any longer,” he said. “Something has to be done.”

He said three of his eight officers are already trained in public safety, meaning they can both fight fires and do police work.

There were no decisions made this evening.

It was just a listening session.

Township officials said they couldn’t give a timeline as for when a vote would take place.

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