The Knox County Commissioners on Tuesday opted not to move forward with an inter-local agreement that would offer to police protection to Bicknell in exchange for just over $326,000 per year.
Commission president Kellie Streeter said she took the inter-local agreement “very seriously” and wanted an option that was “not only best for Bicknell but for the county as well.”
Streeter wasn't convinced — at least not yet — that the inter-local agreement currently on the table was the solution everyone needs.
“I do not wish to entertain a vote on this,” she told her fellow commissioners during their regular meeting Tuesday morning. “The details just came out last night.
“I would rather wait a week or so and let people have a chance to look it over.”
Sheriff Doug Vantlin also thought it too soon to move forward, especially given the discourse from dozens of angry Bicknell residents Monday night when the council there considered — and ultimately approved — the agreement on a 4-1 vote.
“There is still quite a lot of controversy up in Bicknell about this,” the sheriff said. “I just want this information to be digested by everyone, get some feedback on it.
“But, then again, the bottom line is that (Bicknell is) down to one police officer,” Vantlin said. “I didn't ask for this. I didn't go seeking it. I didn't push for it. But they're in a dilemma right now, and to walk away would be unethical.”
The inter-local agreement would essentially eliminate the Bicknell Police Department. The more than $326,000 paid in quarterly installments to the county by Bicknell would go toward the addition of four county deputies.
Vantlin told the commissioners that those deputies, although never all at once, would be assigned primarily to Bicknell and a six-mile radius around the city, specifically the communities of Freelandville, Edwardsport, Bruceville and Ragsdale.
“When they're not answering other calls, they will remain in the Bicknell area,” he said.
“And that's the point I find the most attractive,” Streeter, a resident of Freelandville, said.
Bicknell elected officials there fired one police officer last week; former lieutenant Kevin Carroll plead guilty to a charge of criminal recklessness following an incident more than a year ago.
In April, then chief Terry Stremming was placed on administrative leave after he faced a charge of battery to a public official for an incident at the prosecutor's office in Vincennes.
But it goes beyond that, according to Bicknell Mayor Thomas Estabrook. With a salary of $36,000 per year and no health benefits, he said turnover has been too much to bear.
In the last four years the city has lost six officers to more attractive offers elsewhere.
Veteran council members Wally Cullen and Frank Gugliatta, too, said it was a battle they'd been fighting for many years.
The county can offer a much more attractive package, Vantlin said, with starting pay at $44,000 per year, a pension and health benefits to boot.
The inter-local agreement, he said, will significantly help recruiting officers interested in working in the North Knox area.
The county has been providing to Bicknell police protection since April when Stremming was placed on leave. It was a “gentleman's agreement,” entities have said, but now something more permanent is necessary.
Vantlin said beginning Aug. 12, Bicknell will officially be on its own — at least until the inter-local agreement is signed by all three government entities — and it will be up to them to pay off-duty deputies in the meantime.
But those, Vantlin said, are few and far between these days as deputies simply aren't interested.
As part of the agreement, Bicknell would keep one officer; Estabrook said Monday that officer would likely work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. — while that shift is negotiable — and act primarily as a code enforcement officer.
Many Bicknell residents, however, aren't supportive of the deal — not by a long shot.
They say crime has gone up in Bicknell since the city struck its temporary deal with the county this spring. Many of them stood up and reported instances of petty crime, things like theft, burglaries and, in one instant, even home invasion.
In the instances they called 911 for help, they weren't pleased with the county's response time; one resident said it took a deputy 48 minutes to respond to his home.
Five men stood up during the meeting and said they'd recently filed applications for employment with the BPD but to no avail. Estabrook said he had them but admitted that his focus is on this inter-local agreement as he thinks it in residents' best long-term interest.
Jennie Garlick came armed with a petition bearing nearly 700 signatures calling on the city administration to keep the local force.
A group of residents said they'd come up with their own financial plan to keep a handful of local officers in place.
Bicknell City Council members, however, seemingly tired from years of fighting the same battle, agreed with Estabrook that the inter-local agreement was their best option. They approved it with a 4-1 vote; John Vendes cast the only dissenting vote.
Estabrook, as the meeting Monday adjourned, said he understood much discussion was still necessary before an inter-local agreement was in place. Still, he hopes to have it signed by all entities before the end of the month.
And to his residents' fears, he offered some words of comfort.
“A lot of people here were concerned about (the potential lack of) 24/7 coverage,” Estabrook said. “But I have to emphasize to the public that that has always been the case in Bicknell. Whether it's an officer with a badge (BPD) or one with a star (deputy) there has always been someone that will respond.
“Will there be growing pains? Most likely. But I am confident in where this is going to go and that the sheriff's department will be able to service the needs of this community.”
Upset residents, however, left unconvinced.
“Every person in there tonight was a Bicknell resident,” Garlick said from outside City Hall Monday night. “But it didn't matter what any of us said. They had their minds made up before we even got here.”
The county council will take up this discussion when it meets at 5 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, 201 Vigo St., Vincennes.