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Dorchester looks to hire its own officer

Dorchester looks to hire its own officer Dorchester looks to hire its own officer

Dorchester’s elected officials have decided to go it alone in seeking police protection, voting last week to start the process of hiring a new police officer to work exclusively in the village.

The village board also voted at its Sept. 2 meeting to hold a second meeting sometime this month to consider a proposal for temporary police coverage from the Clark County Sheriff’s Department.

Board members initially talked about inviting representatives of the sheriff’s department and the Colby-Abby Police Department to present proposals for future police coverage, but those ideas were rejected in favor of maintaining the village’s own police department.

“Ultimately, I think we’ll all find fault with either bringing in Abby-Colby or the county, and all of us want to hire a Dorchester police chief or police officer,” trustee Keith Lageman told fellow board members before making a motion to start the hiring process.

The village has been without a local law enforcement agency since the end of July when its police chief retired and the part-time officer resigned.

Based on his conversations with CAPD chief Jason Bauer, village president Kurt Schwoch said hiring the CAPD for 24/7 coverage would cost the village somewhere between $157,000 and $197,000 per year. The cost would be on the lower end if the extra officers who were hired took single-person insurance plans and if the Colby School District was willing to help pay for a school-resource officer.

In checking with the sheriff’s department, Schwoch learned that it would cost the village about $67,000 annually for 20 hours a week of coverage — based on that department charged the village of Withee for similar coverage a couple years ago.

If either the CAPD or the sheriff’s department provided coverage, Schwoch said Dorchester would not have its own designated officer or deputy. It would be a different officer each day depending on who is on shift.

“Do you want a face of the Dorchester Police Department? Then we’ve got to hire our own man,” he told the board.

Trustee Daniella Schauer was adamant that some kind of temporary coverage needs to be arranged while the village is going through the hiring process, because “there is a lot of stuff of going on in town today.”

“I called Clark County twice today because of issues, and that’s just one day,” she said.

For the long-term, Schauer said she would really like to see both the sheriff’s department and the CAPD come in and make presentations to the board regarding their proposals and cost estimates.

Schauer said she’s seen sheriff’s deputies driving through the village recently, but she’d like to have patrolling more of the local streets.

“It’s getting bad on the south end of town, I’m not going to lie,” Schauer said. “It’s getting worse.”

Schwoch said it’s likely a six-month process to hire a new officer, including interviews, background checks and other steps.

Before going that route, however, Schauer said it would be nice for the board to have a true “apples to apples” comparison between hiring an outside agency and continuing to pay for a village police department.

Schauer pointed out that the current budget for the Dorchester Police Department does include a full breakdown of expenses such as vehicle insurance and workman’s comp.

“They have it all broke down in their budget,” she said, referring to the CAPD.

If keeping its own police department costs the village thousands more per year, Schauer wondered if board members would still be in favor of it.

Lageman said he would.

“To me, it’s worth the extra money to have somebody that’s in this town,” he said.

Schauer pointed out that the CAPD is offering round-the-clock coverage seven days a week, while the village would only be hiring someone for 40 hours a week.

Trustee Eric Klemetson, however, said Dorchester got by fine with just one officer for years, and he questioned whether the CAPD would be able to fully meet the village’s needs — including ordinance enforcement — with the growing population in Abbotsford.

“You think they’re going to come here and worry about somebody on a fourwheeler?” he said. CAPD Bauer has said he would need to hire two additional full-time officers in order to properly cover Dorchester.

Right now, Schwoch said the CAPD splits the patrols into north and south territories, with the Shell gas station in Colby being the dividing line. If they added Dorchester, CAPD would move that line to the north, and whichever offi cer is assigned to the north territory would patrol Dorchester.

Schauer’s idea of hearing presentations from the CAPD and sheriff’s department initially drew support from a couple of other board members, but eventually the board, including Schauer, voted to start the hiring process for a village police officer.

Trustee Clem Klimpke said response time was a big concern for him when thinking about hiring an outside agency to cover the village.

“We need them within 15 minutes, not an hour and 15 minutes,” he said.

Board members also talked about possibly needing to raise the starting wages in order to draw more applicants. The recently retired chief was making an annual salary of about $53,000 and the parttime officer was earning $16.50 per hour.

“They’re not going to come and work for our wages,” Schauer said, referring to potential applicants for the job.

No decisions were made about changing the starting wages, but the board did decide to start by hiring an officer, rather than a chief, with the possibility of promoting that person in the future.

Retired police chief Gary Leichtman attended last week’s meeting and used the public input period to voice his concerns about recent appointments to the police committee.

Leichtman objected to former village president Wayne Rau and former committee chair Carol Staab, accusing them of participating in a closed session meeting where his part-time officer was “basically interrogated and threatened.”

“That concerned me,” he said.

Leichtman also alleged that Staab inappropriately “expanded” her authority as chair of committee by doing a background check on the officer.

“She didn’t really have the authority to do that,” he said. “We wound up taking care of that, but we don’t know why she did it.”

Lastly, Leichtman said Rau and Staab were “in collusion” with each other back in 2017 “when they called in the Colby-Abby Police Department to shut down Dorchester,” referring to a March 1, 2017, meeting when CAPD chief Jason Bauer spoke to the board about possibly providing 24/7 coverage to the village, a proposal that was eventually rejected.

The proposal came after a Feb. 1, 2017, board discussion about possible ethics violations regarding footage of a car accident in the parking lot of Memorial Hall that was captured on a villageowned security camera.

Leichtman accused Rau of providing that footage to a non-village employee, who “sent it out on social media.”

“If a police officer would have done that, there would have been an investigation, and I’m pretty sure they would have been charged with something,” he said.

When Leichtman first accused Rau of violating the village’s ethics ordinance in 2017, village attorney Bonnie Wachsmuth reviewed the situation and found that Rau did nothing wrong. The issue was also referred to the sheriff’s department, but no charges were filed.

Still, Leichtman believes Rau’s motivation for inviting in the CAPD was retaliation for his ethics accusation.

Leichtman said the characteristics the village should be seeking in a new officer — “candor, honesty, truth” — should also be shown by members of the police committee.

“I don’t like bringing it out in public, but I don’t like seeing two people put back in there that we’re abusing or expanding their authority,” he said.

UNDER DISCUSSION -Members of the Dorchester village board debate the future of law enforcement in the village last Wednesday. From left to right are trustees Julie Goldschmidt, Clem Klimpke, Eric Klemetson and Keith Lageman.STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN O’BRIEN