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Time to reconsider

We do not envy Dorchester’s village officials as they set forth to either rebuild their police department from scratch or contract with outside agencies for law enforcement. Two weeks’ notice is standard for anyone submitting their resignation, but it’s a microsecond when it comes to preparing for the loss of a police chief who had been there for close to 20 years. Losing a part-time offi cer at the exact same time really left the village in a lurch.

Thankfully, the village can rely on the Clark County Sheriff’s Department for responding to local 911 calls and other major complaints, but it’s too much to expect a deputy to be in the village every day of the week, patrolling the community of 800-plus residents. The sheriff’s department is expected to cover 1,200 square miles of land within the county borders, and while much of this is sparsely populated, the travel time between communities is extensive, so it’s unrealistic to assume that sheriff’s deputies can simply replace the village police department, especially without adding personnel.

Our advice is for Dorchester to reconsider an offer made three years ago by the Colby-Abbotsford Police Department to provide police protection for the village. At that time, in March of 2017, the proposal had some merits, but it came across as a sleight to village police chief Gary Leichtman and his part-time officer, Consuelo Maldonado-Rodriguez, who felt like they had to defend their jobs against possible replacement by other officers. For this reason and others, the idea was ultimately rejected by Dorchester’s police committee and the village board.

This is obviously no longer an issue, now that the Dorchester Police Department is without a chief or even a part-time officer. This comes at a time when Colby-Abby police chief Jason Bauer has said he would like to request a ninth officer in this 2021 budget. That could be a tough sell for the city councils in Abbotsford and Colby, who just recently agreed to help pay for a new school resource officer (SRO) and are likely looking at ways of reining in spending on police protection — not adding another position with salary and benefits.

At the same time, Dorchester taxpayers now have a police department — complete with a squad car and updated computer system — but no one to run it. It wouldn’t surprise us if a majority of village residents want to keep their local department intact as the Dorchester PD, but that may be tough for a number of reasons. Based on a recent change to the village’s employee handbook, the police chief must live within 15 miles of village limits. It’ll likely be difficult to either find someone already living within that radius who is qualified and willing to take the police chief job — or to get someone to move here who is.

On the other end, Dorchester has a neighboring police department with plenty of qualified officers and a governing body that could be expanded to include representation from the village. With the hiring of the SRO two years ago, the CAPD already has one officer who regularly deals with families in Dorchester who send their kids to the Colby School District. Other CAPD officers are also called to the village on a semi-regular basis to provide backup and assistance.

Of course, one of the biggest potential hurdles is the cost. Back in 2017, Dorchester was looking at having to pay an estimated $56,000 more per year for police protection if it hired the CAPD for round-the-clock coverage. Perhaps the proposal needs to be scaled back from 24/7, but it’s worth exploring all options at this time. A dialog should be opened between the CAPD and Dorchester to see if the idea is worth pursuing.

The Tribune-Phonograph editorial board consists of publisher Kris O’Leary and editor Kevin O’Brien