GEORGETOWN — The Georgetown Town Council placed two officers from the Georgetown Police Department on paid administrative leave at a special public meeting Wednesday.
Chief Denny Kunkel and Sgt. Charlie Morgan both are being investigated for misconduct, according to the council.
“Two of our officers were put on paid administrative leave pending outcome of an investigation on allegations of misconduct," council president Everett Pullen said.
No details regarding those accusations were given. The town now has two full-time officers on duty, one of whom is on vacation until Wednesday. Both remaining officers have been instructed not to make contact with Kunkel or Morgan.
Pullen confirmed that the locks to the department's headquarters were changed, leaving Kunkel and Morgan without access. The two remaining officers will continue to have access to the building.
Attempts to reach Kunkel were unsuccessful.
According to town attorney Kristi Fox, council member Kathy Haller was appointed to take the lead on the investigation. No expected duration for the investigation was given.
The decision comes amid speculation of the Town Council's intention to dissolve the police department entirely in favor of contracting police services with the Floyd County Sheriff's Department.
At the council's August meeting, a maximum-occupancy crowd packed into Georgetown Town Hall to express their distaste with the council's handling of the issue.
"I didn't say we're not [getting rid of it]," vice president Joshua Cavanaugh said during the meeting when pressed for answers. "If something like that were to happen, it would all take place in a public meeting. You would all know."
Now, some in the town feel the latest move is just a continuation of efforts to dismantle the department.
"I don't think that this is coincidental at all," resident Michelle Reckner said. "The people who are paying attention are angry. We don't feel like the Town Council is listening to us. We don't feel like they have the community's best interest in mind. We're angry, and elections are coming up. This is happening really close to election time, and lots of people are really angry."
Others have brought up ethical concerns regarding a sitting member of the council leading the investigation.
According to Jeffersonville City Council attorney Larry Wilder, the avenue through which towns pursue discipline issues related to police and fire departments is different than cities or larger towns.
"The due process of how that would occur is dictated by whether or not the town has created a safety board," Wilder said. "If they have not created a safety board, then the town council actually oversees the process of discipline. For instance, Clarksville is a town, but it’s one of the biggest in the state. They created a safety board years ago. To discipline, they go through that."
Though Wilder said he doesn't believe the Georgetown council's handling of the matter is necessarily illegal or against statute, he said it "would certainly seem prudent" to have a third-party agency, such as the Indiana State Police or the Floyd County Sheriff's Department, handle the investigation.
Another question brought up by Wilder is whether or not Haller would recuse herself from the decision-making phase of the process after presenting the findings of the investigation.
"It’s probably not illegal or unethical or forbidden for them to investigate this internally," he said. "The problem is, is it the smart, best practice for them to do it that way? If they have a hearing, can the investigating person vote without being biased? It seems a bit unusual the way they’re doing it, but it doesn’t seem to be illegal. The smart thing would be for them to bring in an outside agency.”
Regardless of how the investigation proceeds, residents are concerned about the safety of the town with a limited police force.
"Right now, the crime is really low, it seems to be anyway," Reckner said. "But if people know that there's no police department here, that could change. This police department has done a lot for the community, and they continue to do a lot for the community. I feel safer knowing that my kids are 30 seconds away from the police rather than 10 minutes or 15 minutes if something were to happen."
The town council will meet again at Georgetown Town Hall at 6 p.m. Sept. 16.