KNIGHTSTOWN, Ind. (WISH) — Residents and former officers confronted Knightstown officials over their handling of police department matters Thursday during a town council meeting.
Much of the hourlong meeting was spent discussing the future of the town’s dwindling police force and frustrations that led to a mass resignation of officers.
Approximately a dozen Knightstown Police Department (KPD) employees quit in June over disagreements with the town council, leaving the department staffed by only one full-time officer, two part-time officers, three reserve officers and interim chief Frank Beatrice.
KPD Chief Chris Newkirk remained on medical leave for a shoulder injury, officials said.
The meeting venue in Sunset Park was packed as full as social distancing guidelines permitted.
More than 30 residents — some wearing face coverings — sat six feet apart from each other inside the park’s Shelter House. Dozens more stood outside or followed social media updates from home.
Sarah Ward, the town council president, addressed the room with opening remarks that highlighted the importance of resolving conflict.
“Let’s bring accountability and transparency to our police department and its processes by working together,” she said.
Officers had complained for years about the town council’s “micromanaging” and “mishandling” of internal police affairs, according to current and former KPD employees.
Tensions came to a head after town officials voted to replace Chief Newkirk’s handpicked interim chief with the less experienced Beatrice.
“It is a power struggle gone wrong,” said Kerry O’Haver, a former KPD reserve officer who resigned in June. “I would gladly come back in an instant if the town council could grow up.”
He stood to address residents and council members during the public comment portion of Thursday night’s meeting.
“I’m not sure what the town board has against Chief Newkirk, but it’s pretty much disgusting,” O’Haver told the crowd. “What is happening here is a repeat and everybody here should see it. It continually happens. Every time they can’t control the police chief, they drum up a phony investigation or something along that line.”
A council member thanked him for his civic engagement when his allotted two minutes expired.
“You’re welcome,” O’Haver replied; residents applauded.
Beatrice urged residents to “just bear with us” and acknowledged it would “take time” to rebuild the town’s police force and public trust.
He detailed efforts to maintain a law enforcement presence in Knightstown, including seeking assistance from the Henry County Sheriff’s Office.
Council members assured residents they would not let police resignations impact the town’s public safety standards.
“We want to assure the public that we do have a police department,” Ward said.
Officials appeared to take notes as residents presented civilian recommendations for improved police operations.
Proposals included establishing community forums and meeting regularly to discuss successful policing models used by other agencies.
“We had so many great officers in this town. What happened?” a resident asked the council.