By Stephen Owsinski:
Integrity. It is everything. It is the lifeblood pulsing through the veins of government figures and law enforcement officers. In one case, both components swore via oaths to uphold Constitutional tenets. In the end, one side fulfilled its role while the other side sullied its responsibilities, dishonored constituents, and tried to tarnish badges.
Bunker Hill, a small town in Indiana with a populace of about 900, is now without a police force. Bittersweet for the town-folk, they once enjoyed police officials ripe with integrity and the spirit of law and order…until each officer felt devalued and misused by town council. Collective resignation ensued, and the Bunker Hill Police Department shuttered operations and hung a shingle directing residents to call 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency. Surreal, but entirely possible.
Culminating in its police force resigning were examples of town council devaluing and neglecting its cops. For example, police officers had to share body armor due to the town not supplying ballistic vests for each of its few cops. There are ways to kill morale, and there are ways in which increasing chances of fatality (unprotected cops) is immoral. There is nothing ambiguous about the myriad perils police officers encounter, so investing in conventional life-saving equipment is not only wise but also part of a government’s fiscal responsibility.
My police agency—and many others—automatically purchases a ballistic vest for every…single…cop. Some departments have policies mandating each cop to don his/her vest. In other departments, any cop who declines to wear a protective vest must sign a “Hold-harmless Agreement,” acknowledging preference to go without ballistic-wear. (Yes, it is vexing.)
But to deny any cop ballistic protection is a set-up for unfathomable proportions and irrevocable loss.
According to a Fox News report, stemming from Bunker Hill’s government leaders’ requests for its police force to conduct certain deeds deemed criminal in nature, the entire contingent of cops handed in their badges and emphatically said “Nope!” Reportedly, Bunker Hill town council members were pitting against each other by asking its police officers to conduct informal “criminal history” checks using government equipment: illegal in context, categorized as a misuse of power, and counter to state criminal-intelligence-use certifications.
Bunker Hill cops felt they were pressured to “do illegal, unethical, and immoral things.” Bravo to them for actionably embracing their oath.
Criminal intelligence databases are highly-monitored and strictly regulated against informal, non-criminal justice purposes. (One exception is a police agency’s background-check of prospective police candidates in the hiring process.)
Nevertheless, any town council official compelling any law enforcement officer to use (abuse) power of informational access is in itself an abuse of power. (At this juncture, I could fill up the board with misconduct and criminal act assertions, but I’d rather concentrate on emphasizing police integrity.)
Bunker Hill’s law enforcement organizational chart depicts a town marshal, Michael Thomison, whose title is equivalent to a police chief. Thomison served as the police executive over the few deputies who served under him (countable on one hand), on behalf of Bunker Hill residents. Marshal Thomison provided his ballistic vest to his officers, since the town lacked adequate supply.
Most of Bunker Hill’s law enforcement officers were classified as “reserve deputies” who, in police parlance, means voluntary service without any compensation. Reserve deputies are academy-trained, fully-certified, officially-sworn police officers who seek to selflessly serve their community. Therefore, the Town of Bunker Hill had a bargain right under its nose…and chose to sneeze it away.
Before the finale for these cops was a measure enacted by town council against Town Marshal Thomison. Embroiled in a battle with cancer, Thomison took a hiatus from duty to attend the life-threatening diagnosis with which he dealt. Upon returning to duty, town council handed Thomison notice that his duty hours were abbreviated to 29.75 hours per week. The imperative and relative factor here is that Bunker Hill only provides employees’ benefits when 30 hours of work per week is tallied.
That takes absolutely zero forensic analysis to arrive at the retributive blatancy conducted by town council. No head-scratching mystery there. Further, such a directive is a rotting carcass of apathy peppered with selfishness and arrogance. One can easily say that what had reportedly festered in Bunker Hill for some time boiled-over with the audacious and conspicuous actions by town leaders.
With intuition as confirmation, I am confident solidarity mounted and Thomison’s police officers stood with him when town council did not. That all Bunker Hill cops compiled and tendered their respective resignation letters, and departed as a group, exemplifies the band of brothers modality.
In response, Bunker Hill town council released a written statement attesting to how “blindsided” it is by the totality of the police force resignations. Council also denies any of the allegations made by its now-former police force.
Bunker Hill’s loss will be the gain of other police agencies, any of which will benefit from having nobility, honor and integrity exemplified by these men in uniform.
In keeping with integrity, one may wonder what the residents of Bunker Hill will do without its public safety force. Universally, mutual aid agreements are pre-determined treatise among neighboring agencies, the purpose of which is to ensure resources are available when solicited. As such, Bunker Hill is temporarily served by the Miami County Sheriff’s Office. Whether that will be the permanent police presence in Bunker Hill remains to be decided; contracts often ensue.
Thanks to the Town of Bunker Hill website, I do know they are selling a Dodge Charger police cruiser. So, there is that particular sign typically denoting downsizing. The site also advertises “1 Town Council” seat available and “1 Part-time Marshal” vacancy. As reported in a Fox News article, the town Building Commissioner, Bill Gornto, also resigned, citing, “Due to the actions of the current town council, I find myself unable to continue in this job. This means you now have to notify the state building department that you no longer have a valid department.” With Gornto, town Council Vice President Jim Panther followed suit with his resignation, leaving the remaining dignitaries to hunker in Bunker.
I know of five cops who, in the face of corruption and conspiracy, did the right thing.
Stephen Owsinski is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer.