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Solon Springs eliminates police department

The Solon Springs Police Department is no more. The village board of trustees voted to eliminate the department at its June 23 meeting, two weeks after the town board of supervisors did the same.

The move comes a year after Solon Springs Peace Officer Gerald Olson was placed on paid administrative leave following allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances to a woman after he offered her a ride in June 2013.

“It is a perfect solution? No,” said Village President Mike Blaylock, but it’s the best solution “in light of what happened.”

The incident was investigated by the Superior Police Department. Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank reviewed the investigation and decided not to file criminal charges against Olson.

“The conduct as alleged is just plain wrong given Mr. Olson’s law enforcement position,” Blank said in January, but “appropriate consequences, if any, will not be determined in criminal court.”

Since then, members of the town and village board have held a number of joint meetings to complete an internal employment investigation and evaluate their options.

“A lot of time has been spent in meetings trying to make sure we came up with the right decision,” Blaylock said.

One unintended consequence has been closer contact between the two boards.

“We definitely know each other now,” Blaylock said.

That could help as the two municipalities forge ahead.

“We are so small and we share so many services,” Blaylock said. “It brought to light the fact that we need to be working together.”

There have been a few letters to the village board about the police officer situation and talk of a petition, but nothing materialized at the June 23 meeting.

“No one attended our meeting,” Blaylock said. “No one spoke.”

Realistically, he said, Solon Springs has been without a police presence for a year and no safety concerns have cropped up.

“There have been rumors around Solon for some time about doing away with the police department and it has been my assumption there isn’t much vocal objection to it, oddly enough,” said Solon Springs resident Chuck Shingledecker. “What people think now that it’s a reality, I do not know. What I do know is that a few people have been encouraging folks to watch their neighbor’s house more closely.”

The only village calls the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department hasn’t stepped in to handle dealt with stray dogs. So Blaylock became the unofficial village dog catcher. He’s handled three stray dog calls over the last year.

Municipal constables and marshals throughout the county have been an asset for the sheriff’s department.

“It’s a very good point of contact for us having them out there,” said Sheriff Tom Dalbec. “They interact with the residents more than us. They take a lot more of the nuisance calls.”

He said he hasn’t seen a dramatic change in the number of calls from Solon Springs over the past year.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big issue,” the sheriff said, although having that point of contact will be missed. “I understand Solon Springs making their decision, doing what they have to do.”

Solon Springs isn’t alone. According to the Douglas County website, only 35 percent of the county’s municipalities have a constable or marshal anymore.

“Why would the town want to pay for it when they have us?” asked Chief Deputy Jerry Moe of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department.

Eliminating the Solon Springs Police Department will save the village about $31,000 a year in salary, pension, gas for the police car and a cell phone. No cost estimate was received from the town.

Thomas King of Solon Springs said the village has been and is a generally safe place to live.

“We and others are not overly concerned,” he said. With the loss of a local law enforcement presence, he said, it might be a good time to encourage citizen observation skills and let residents know who they should contact if a situation arises.

Blaylock said residents should continue to be vigilant and address anything that seems out of place. The village is also considering some sort of community watch group.

The number listed for Olson was disconnected.