GEORGETOWN — Word of a potential police department shutdown circulating throughout Georgetown has created much confusion and concern in recent days, prompting hundreds of residents to sign a petition in support of the department.
It appears as though the public speculation over the dissolution of the seven-person Georgetown Police Department — which has four full-time officers and three reserve officers — may have started with a Facebook post by Joanna Duff on July 31.
Duff said she overheard a conversation about the Georgetown Town Council possibly terminating the department and instead contracting with the Floyd County Sheriff's Department for police services.
"That is what I wrote and all I actually know at this time," Duff told the News and Tribune. "I did reach out to all council members before I posted and only one replied saying 'can't comment.'"
In the days since, a Facebook page titled "We Support Georgetown PD" has received more than 80 likes and followers. A petition started by Duff has garnered even more support, with well over 300 people signing on to "stop the dismantling of the Georgetown Police Department."
The News and Tribune has also received calls from concerned citizens, who requested not to be identified, with them noting that attempts to get any information on the rumor have failed. Georgetown Police Chief Denny Kunkel even went on record with a Louisville news organization stating that he has been unable to get information from town council members.
Attempts to reach Kunkel for comment by phone and in person were unsuccessful.
When asked if any discussion of the matter has taken place among council members, president Everett Pullen told the News and Tribune "absolutely not."
"It was a rumor," Pullen said. "It just kind of blew up. As of right now, there’s nothing.”
Minutes from the council's June meeting do not indicate that talks about the department's future occurred. A copy of the July minutes will not be available until they are approved at the Aug. 19 meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m.
Pullen added that no decision has been made regarding whether or not the council will address the rumor at the upcoming meeting.
“That I’m not sure of yet," Pullen said. "When we get there, we’ll start looking at that, and we’ll go from there.”
Calls to three other council members were not returned.
If the decision were made to abandon the department in favor of a contract with the Floyd County Sheriff's Department, it would not be unilateral. Both the Floyd County Commissioners and the County Council would have to sign off on any agreement between the town and the sheriff's department.
According to commissioner Billy Stewart — who represents District 3, of which Georgetown is a part — getting that done "isn't impossible, but it is a process."
"While the town may be able to close their police department, they can't contract without us," Stewart said. "I don't know if the town knows that."
Stewart said that while no communication has taken place between commissioners and Georgetown officials, he has sought legal advice on the matter. Specifically, before anything comes before county officials, he wants to know what legal authority Georgetown has.
"Because this stuff came up, I asked our attorney to research case law to see if the town can abolish their office," Stewart said. "The reason the county is looking at it now is because Georgetown might look at enhanced services. Before we'd approve something like that, I want to make sure it can legally be done. If it's legal, it's a request we would consider. If it's not, of course, we wouldn't."
Right now, Stewart said Georgetown police do not provide 24-hour service. When officers are off duty, Floyd County Sheriff's deputies respond to calls.
"While the town is not on duty, the sheriff is already there," Stewart said. "The sheriff doesn't enforce local laws, only county and state. Without a police department, town ordinances don't get enforced."
The presence of the sheriff's department is currently only in an emergency capacity. If the town were to contract with the department, they would provide enhanced services.
Such services include those already provided by the Georgetown Police Department, like conducting routine patrols of the area and having a presence at local schools and public events.
Without a contract in place, the sheriff's department would still only provide emergency services.
"Emergency services means if you dial 911, police show up," Stewart said. "It doesn't mean they patrol your neighborhood. There is a difference between having patrols and calling 911 for a response."
Stewart said consideration would also have to be given to the financial status of Georgetown.
"The county would look at it if we collect enough money from Georgetown to approve those services," Stewart said. "It costs a lot of money to hire new people, give them benefits and provide all the stuff that goes along with that. If they only had so much money to spend, we wouldn't vote for it. Then, Georgetown would be stuck with 911 services. I'm not saying that's going to happen, because I have no idea how much it would all cost."
PERSPECTIVES IN THE COMMUNITY
Though it's unclear how the situation will progress from here, opinions are being formed and discussed within the community. Several businesses in Georgetown were contacted and visited for comment.
While some were willing to give their opinion, many asked not to be identified on the record. A majority of those said they are more comfortable having a local police presence as opposed to contracting out such services.
From a citizen's perspective, Stewart said that he hasn't spoken to anyone who thinks the rumored plan is a good idea.
"Being a citizen, I do not want our local police department to go away," Stewart said. "I like having our own police department. You know who's there, and none of them are strangers. If you need something extra done, you have good communication with them. All of my neighbors say the same thing."
Sharing this perspective were representatives from Lamb's Heating & Air Conditioning. According to Sara Lamb, the company has been on the receiving end of criminal acts in the past.
"We've had several break-ins throughout the years," Lamb said. "We've had people who have actually tried to break into our physical building. The last time we had anything stolen, they hooked up to a trailer and stole it, along with all the material in it. The Georgetown police helped us go through our security footage and identify those involved. We figured out who it was, and he has since been prosecuted."
Georgetown police also conduct overnight check-ins at the business sometimes, where they will see if anything out of the ordinary is happening and leave a note behind. Because of their history with break-ins, Lamb said she wouldn't want to see the police department go away.
"It's nice knowing they're right there," Lamb said. "We have a relationship with the police officers. We just know them, and I feel safer with them. They will drive by on patrol. We have a security system, and if it goes off, they'll swing by and see if anything looks unusual or out of the ordinary. We don't even have to call them. They're here locally, so they might see something. If they're not here and the response is coming from farther away, there's less likely to be a person who is just driving by."
Others, who asked not to be identified, said they would be happy to see the police department go away. To some, a seven-person force isn't required for a town as small as Georgetown.
Georgetown's population sits at roughly 3,300. That averages out to about two officers per 1,000 residents. New Albany has a population of nearly 37,000, with a police force of 72 officers. This puts Georgetown at the same ratio as the much larger New Albany.
According to FBI statistics, the average number of officers for cities with populations under 10,000 residents was 3.8 per 1,000 residents in 2017, meaning Georgetown is below average.
Those who don't see a need for the police department said most of the services provided by police revolve around ticketing drivers. They added that the sheriff's department already has a strong presence in the town and could easily replace the local force.
While Stewart agrees that the sheriff's department is capable of conducting services in Georgetown, he would rather keep it local.
"I have a full faith in our sheriff's department to provide services," Stewart said. "It's not a qualm that they can't do it, because I know for a fact that they could. But I want our own people. I want our same guys who go to the elementary school and the middle school and who we see all the time. It's our own."