USA Justice First Look

Why every cop in a small Indiana town just walked off the force

The Bunker Hill, Ind., police force issued letters of resignation earlier this week, citing continued disagreements with the town’s council.

Members of the LAPD Cadet Program attend a graduation ceremony, Nov. 22, 2014 in Los Angeles.
Danny Moloshok/The Ray Charles Foundation/AP/File | Caption

A small town in Indiana was left without a police force after the officers handed in resignation letters and shuttered the station Monday, saying the town council was to blame for their drastic action.

“We have had issues with the town board and there are some activities there where I felt like they were serving their own agenda,” former Bunker Hill Town Marshal Michael Thomison told WTTV, the local CBS affiliate. His department previously served the town of 900 people, located about 60 miles north of Indianapolis, before he and four reserve, unpaid deputies quit. “They would not communicate with us or the officers and they kept scaling back.”

Officers say town councilors asked them to engage in illicit activity and refused to fund necessary expenses, which jeopardized officer safety.  

While clashes between police and civilians have come to the forefront in recent years, prompting President Obama to release a task force regarding policing in the 21st century, conflicts between departments and their local elected officials have been brewing as well.

In cities around the country, including Boston and Pittsburgh, debates over mandatory body cameras have pitted the two sides against one another and created divisions between officers and the officials who serve their town. Elected officials say they want to increase transparency, while police officers say that cameras could interfere with their ability to serve their communities and drain funding from other programs.  

In Bunker Hill, officers claim that the town council refused to provide funding to outfit the department in appropriate body armor, providing just one suit for all of the officers. They also allege that some town councilors requested they run undisclosed background checks on other councilors, searching for criminal histories to use against them. The officers also say they’ve received threats from councils for refusing to comply.

While Bunker Hill’s council acknowledges the shaky relationship between the two entities, it denied the allegations brought by the police department in a statement.

“The resignation of the entire police force has come as a shock to the council. It has never been the goal to dismantle or otherwise endanger the town police department or officers. The current town council as well as prior councils have, on occasion, had disagreements with Mr. Thomison over a number of things. These disagreements have primarily been caused by the lack of funding available to the town to invest in the police department. However, the council denies that it has failed to provide body armor for the marshal or reserve deputies.”

For now, county deputies will patrol the town and respond to calls while the town searches for a new marshal and deputies, reports the Kokomo Tribune.

Mr. Thomison expressed regret about leaving the department behind, but said he felt he had no way to effectively serve the community under the town council’s restrictive and unethical leadership.

“The longer I stay there, the harder it is to get anything done. It’s time to step away and do something else,” he told the Tribune. “The community will suffer, but I can’t continue to stay there when the support’s not there for the department or the reserve deputies.”