Bicknell, county police looking at long-term partnership in wake of staffing troubles

BICKNELL — Still reeling from a reduced police force, Mayor Thomas Estabrook is looking to strike a more permanent deal with the Knox County Sheriff's Department.

Estabrook said he's been in talks with Sheriff Doug Vantlin on securing a “more long-term arrangement,” one he hopes to be able to present to the city council soon.

“All the details haven't yet been finalized,” the mayor said. “But I think we're close to an agreement.

“I plan to have something squared up for discussion, and hopefully approval, in the next 30 days.”

The Bicknell Police Department suffered a blow in April when its chief, Terry Stremming, was arrested on charges of misconduct.

Indiana State Police officers say a Bicknell police officer — who wasn't identified — went to the prosecutor's office to hand over a laptop computer that possibly contained evidence of officer misconduct on the part of another, again an unnamed, Bicknell officer.

Stremming then went to the prosecutor's office and allegedly got into a physical altercation with an investigator there when she refused to give the laptop back.

Stremming was arrested for misconduct and battery, so the city's Board of Works met in emergency session to officially place him on administrative leave. The board's next move was to move Bicknell officer Loren Myers into the role of ranking officer in charge of operations.

Stremming was the second officer to be placed on leave in as many years.

A year ago, the board placed Lt. Kevin Carroll on unpaid administrative leave after he was arrested by ISP and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Violent Crimes Task Force for allegedly sharing information about an undercover drug operation.

He faces charges of official misconduct and criminal recklessness, and his case is still pending in Knox County Superior Court I.

That investigation got underway in March 2018, after state police reviewed allegations that Carroll had shared sensitive information with a Daviess County resident that could have compromised undercover drug operations and put undercover officers at risk.

The Bicknell Police Department, per the city's budget, has enough money allocated for six officers. Before the two alleged incidents, it had four.

Now that's down to two, so after Stremming was arrested, Estabrook looked to the Knox County Sheriff's Department for help.

Currently, the city's two full-time officers are alternating days, shifts of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. specifically, Estabrook said.

County deputies then help out in the overnight hours, and Vantlin, too, said he would call upon the department's 15 reserve officers to help when needed as well.

The more permanent deal, Estabrook said, would look “close to what we've been doing,” indicating a permanent reduction in city officers.

“The city will retain some law enforcement coverage,” Estabrook said, “that will remain under the city's umbrella. But it will look different.

“The county coming in (to play) a larger role is going to be a big component of this.”

Vantlin confirmed that he'd been in talks with Estabrook on how to best protect Bicknell given their ongoing staffing troubles.

What it looks like in the end, well, it could take on many forms, he said.

“Us providing coverage is one of the long-term options we are looking at,” Vantlin said. “But there are other ways, too.

“There are just still a lot of details to be worked out,” he said.

Estabrook added that since the county has stepped in to help, they've had no issues in police coverage.

“The communication I've had with the county and Sheriff Vantlin has been great,” he said. “Deputies are working hard and covering the area. They've been responsive and visible to the public.

“They've been great.”

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