Ottawa County: Major Crimes Unit needed, prosecutor says

Larry Limpf

News Editor
After seeking input from local law enforcement departments in Ottawa County, the prosecutor’s office has formed the Ottawa County Major Crimes Unit to provide assistance with investigations.
Prosecutor James VanEerten announced the formation recently, saying the unit is being designed to provide county-wide support to any department requesting assistance in handling an investigation. The MCU will also conduct any investigation requested by VanEerten’s office.
At its inception, the MCU consists of one commander, Matt Gandee, who’s worked at the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, including heading its SWAT team, and five full-time agents.
VanEerten said the unit’s primary investigative areas will focus on child pornography, human trafficking, crimes against persons, and complex financial crimes.
The MCU is the result of a re-organization of the Ottawa County Drug Task Force and a portion of the unit will continue to handle county-wide drug enforcement efforts.
VanEerten said crime trends change over time and law enforcement needs to be able to adapt and retool quickly as the complexity of each criminal investigation continues to increase.
He said child pornography and online sexual child abuse has been a significant concern. According to a study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, from 2019 to 2020, monthly reports of online child sexual abuse material doubled from one million to two million. The numbers have continued to increase annually by 35 percent.
Local crime trends have also raised concerns among area law enforcement departments such as financial/fraud offenses, sexual assault, and violent crimes.
“We are home to several small law enforcement agencies that have access to limited investigative resources. Additionally, there is a significant staffing shortage within law enforcement and most departments continue to struggle with employee retention,” VanEerten said. “Major crimes investigations consume a vast amount of manpower and resources to thoroughly investigate. MCU will be able to provide these agencies with the manpower, resources, and experience necessary to successfully complete complex and technological investigations. MCU will also have access to some of the most cutting edge investigative tools, including advanced cell phone extraction and analysis, forensic analytical software, advanced on-site drug laboratory analysis, and numerous surveillance tools.”
The resources will also be available to local law enforcement agencies at no cost, he said.
The MCU is being funded through several grants from the state, contributions from local townships and municipalities, and the Ottawa County commissioners.
Gandee said he and the other agents met with other MCU’s in the area to see how their operations functioned.
“Each county is unique in their own respects, so we took some ideas and tailored them to fit our needs as far as operational status and investigative abilities,” he said. “Being new, this is something that will need to continue to evolve, but we are confident in our foundation and look forward to growing and learning as we go.”
Other agents in the unit are:
-Deputy Commander Zach Bowling, who’s also held various positions at the sheriff’s office, including the SWAT and Hostage Negotiation teams.
-Trevor Johnson, who is the director of the Ottawa County Drug Abuse Response team and has worked as the chief probation officer of the county municipal court. He’s also a member of the SWAT team.
-Joel Barton, who’s worked at several police departments in the county before becoming a detective at the sheriff’s office where he was assigned to the drug task force. He is currently assigned to the Cartel, Laundering, Gangs, and Narcotics Task Force as an FBI Task Force officer.
-Garrett Schling, who’s held several posts at the sheriff’s office and will be the electronics sniffing dog handler for the MCU. The position was made possible by a donation by Operation Underground Railroad. The unit expects to have the dog in service in April.
-Bill Marshall, who has worked in law enforcement for more than 20 years, including his most recent position as captain/jail administrator with the sheriff’s office.


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