CLIFFORD — Town Marshal Charles DeWeese has a unique challenge — serving as a town law enforcement officer without a police car.
For the past three months, DeWeese has been going on police calls in the town northeast of Columbus in his personal vehicle, a 2006 Chevy Trailblazer, as town members continue a search for a used police vehicle.
His sport-utility vehicle has no flashing lights or sirens, so DeWeese can’t make traffic stops or transport anyone to the Bartholomew County Jail. He calls the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department for assistance if any circumstance comes up requiring a regular police vehicle.
DeWeese, who retired from Cummins Inc. with more than 35 years of service, also works for a local auction service and serves as a Bartholomew County deputy coroner.
He provides marshal duties for the town — which had a 2016 population of 235 — from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. due to his daytime responsibilities, with the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department routinely called for emergencies in the town, said Danny James, Clifford Town Board president.
Several years ago, DeWeese was paid about $4,000 a year. But when the town’s finances tightened, he and other town officials agreed to not take any salary, so he is now working without pay, he said.
“Small towns can’t afford to pay someone the same way a deputy or city officer would be paid,” DeWeese said. “I just enjoy helping people and helping the town.”
DeWeese, who has been town marshal since 1993, previously would buy his own police vehicle as town marshal and lease the car to the town for $1. He then agreed with the town board several years ago to switch to a different plan. That involved accepting one of the Bartholomew County Sheriff Department’s soon-to-be retired road deputy vehicles and using it until it would no longer run, then returning it to the county to be auctioned.
But that plan isn’t working anymore as the sheriff’s department is keeping its cars up to 150,000 miles, and they aren’t in good enough shape at that point even for a town marshal’s use, James said.
The amount of money the town put into the last car it received from the county could not be justified because the town didn’t receive anything when it turned the vehicle back over to the county, James said.
“The town wants a car they can call their own,” DeWeese said. “They’re not going to be putting money into a car that the town doesn’t own.”
The last vehicle Clifford had been using from the county, a 2008 Ford Crown Victoria, stopped running about three months ago when it blew a head gasket and the engine needed to be replaced, DeWeese said.
DeWeese had already put a set of new tires on the car, at about $500 out of his own pocket, and outfitted the car with lights valued at about $1,200, also from his own money, he said.
The town had earlier replaced the transmission in the car and rebuilt the front end, at a cost of more than $4,000, James said.
The cost of the new engine and installation, estimated at up to $5,500, exceeded the car’s value, the town board president said.
The town board attempted to pick up one of the used Columbus Police Department cars that were being prepared for trade-in, but the city decided to trade all of them in as part of its squad-replacement program, James said.
Town officials are consulting with the buyer of those vehicles to see if one of the retired cars could still be purchased for the town, he said.
Those cars are lower mileage — one had 68,000 miles — and James said it would be a better value than getting higher-mileage cars from the sheriff’s department.
James is also checking around the state for other cities and counties that are trading in used police cars, trying to find a vehicle with lower mileage that won’t require a large amount of investment by the town.
“We just can’t justify sinking money into a vehicle if we aren’t going to get any of that money back,” he said.
James promised the town would get a new police vehicle. But since it isn’t budgeted, the purchase price will need to come out of the town’s general fund, he said.
“We just want to buy and own a vehicle for a reasonable amount of money so we can eventually trade it in for the value,” he said.