Police agency at center of FOX19 NOW investigation closes its doors

Police agency at center of FOX19 NOW investigation closes its doors

MANCHESTER, OH (FOX19) - With a vote of 4 to 6, the Manchester Police Department is no more.

Doors closed. Two cops laid off.

The village council told a packed council chamber Monday night, there was no other option. The police department is $7,000 in the red.

The two-man department was draining the general fund by $10,000 a month; a figure told to the public during Monday night's council meeting.

"We are still going in the hole. We're $7,000 in the hole right now. Jeff's not going to get paid. I mean, there's no money to pay him," councilwoman Teresa Blythe told the taxpayers who packed council's chambers.

The "Jeff" Blythe referred to is Manchester Police Chief Jeff Bowling.

The other cop on the village pay roll is Joshua Hayes, who works full time as the school resource office for the village's high and elementary schools.
 
[CLICK HERE: To see our investigation into how the chief's Google search of Officer Hayes led the chief to fire Hayes last year—and why state investigators are now looking into Hayes' conduct as a Manchester Police Officer.]

Before the vote, Bowling warned council and the public, cutting the department would mean no officer posted at the village's schools or any other time to patrol and answer calls in the village.

Closing the police department would also cut the village's magistrate and clerk of court, Bowling cautioned the council.

"We've got a responsibility to the residents, every one of us up here," Bowling said during the 69-minute-long Monday night council meeting.

"The sheriff's office is going to come in here, they're going to require a contract and they're not going to do it for free," Bowling argued.

Two months ago, council voted to cut Bowling's salary to 20 hours a week. It was a move council member Blythe argued would help stave off some of the losses the police department created.

It wasn't enough.

"IT'S A MONEY THING"

"It's a money thing," Blythe told the crowd and Bowling Monday night. It wasn't anything political, Blythe told Bowling.

"There's not a lot of money sitting here, we've barely got two pennies to our name. Honest to God," councilman Cody Wagner told the crowd.

Since last year's meeting with state auditors, the state's been "breathing down our necks," Wagner told Bowling and the public. Wagner said the state put the village on notice last year to balance its budget or risk being taken over by the state.

The village police department budget is $116,000 a year, council told the public during Monday's meeting. One option would be to ask the county for a ballot initiative to increase the tax rates to 7 mils, Wagner said during the meeting.

That would allow the village to take another $96,000 from tax payers in order to fund Hayes and Bowling's annual salaries without taking money from the general fund to pay police salaries, Blythe explained.

The only option at this point was to close the department in hopes to balance the village budget.

"IT'S GOING TO BE THE WILD WEST AROUND HERE"

Council heard from several taxpayers during Monday's meeting. None of the people who spoke expressed any support for Ordinance 2017-6, the Manchester Police Department's death sentence.

"Summertime, it's going to be the wild west around here if we don't have police, I hate to tell you guys," Anthony Goodwin told council.

Others warned council that relying on the Adams County Sheriff's Department to provide adequate policing in the village isn't going to work.

They told stories to prove that.

One involved two Ford Mustangs in town, blazing through the village's 25 and 35 miles an hour speed zones at "60 and 70 miles an hour," Daphne Sparks told council.

"We've only got a cop 20 hours. He's not here. I'm tired of calling the sheriff's department and they ain't never got nobody in this area, so how are they going to catch them," Sparks asked council.

Another Manchester taxpayers told council, she's called the sheriff's department multiple times about what she thinks is drug running on her street.

The response, she said, was not up to anyone's satisfaction.

"I called the sheriff's department twice and they never came out," Erica Bennington told the village's six-member council Monday night, "No one's doing their job like they should be."

"We're going without coverage, too," councilwoman Blythe told the crowd, referring to the impacts of the council's vote to kill its own police force.

Messages left for Mayor Robert Hilderbrand have not been returned.

In an e-mail message from Manchester Local School District Superintendent Dr. Charles Shreve today, Shreve wrote, "There are currently no plans to replace the SRO position." Shreve offered no details as to how--or if--the district would provide resource officer services in the interim.

WORKING WITHOUT A NET

For years, Chief Jeff Bowling's said he's worked for free in Manchester. Averaging 100 hours every pay period, Bowling said he was only paid for 80 hours.

The rest, he told FOX19 NOW in an investigation last month, he gave to the citizens of his village to help keep law and order in the small Adams County town.

Bowling also said he knew at any point his department could be shuttered, but he worked and made no plans to leave the village. That ended when the village voted to cut him to part time and stripped the chief of his health insurance.

"I'll continue to do the best I can here," Bowling said during Monday night's meeting, "I kind of feel guilty for declining calls when people call me and most people here have my cell phone number and I say I can't come out, I'm at 20 hours," Bowling told council.

Despite his department's demise Monday night, Bowling told the crowd inside council chambers, he's still a "sworn peace officer in the state of Ohio," and that he would still answer emergency calls in the village.

The announcement was met with applause and several people stood and cheered Bowling following his announcement.

Still, though, when the sun went down Monday night, the Village of Manchester was without a police force. It'll stay that way until the village figures out a plan to pay for law enforcement there.

As of this report, there is no such plan.

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