Winfield cops solution in works with sheriff

2010-10-05T00:00:00Z 2010-10-11T15:47:21Z Winfield cops solution in works with sheriffBy Chas Reilly, (219) 662-5324

WINFIELD | Residents hope to learn Tuesday night what the Town Council will do to protect them.

Three days after pulling patrols in Winfield, Lake County Sheriff Rogelio "Roy" Dominguez said Monday "significant progress" was made at a meeting with Town Council President Jim Hicks and Town Attorney Bill Enslen.

He said based on ongoing discussions, "the matter should be resolved after (Tuesday night's) board meeting."

Dominguez declined to provide details, saying Hicks still needed to discuss the situation with town officials. Hicks did not return calls for comment Monday.

Tuesday's special meeting comes in the wake of Winfield failing to meet Dominguez's Friday deadline to pay the Sheriff's Department $100,000 for county police protection this year. Some town officials were displeased by Dominguez's actions.

"He's putting lives at risk," Town Councilman Michael Lambert said.

Lambert referred specifically to county police refusing to respond Sunday to an accident involving a pickup truck hitting a pole at a Winfield gas station. The driver of the truck fled the scene. Indiana State Police eventually responded and tracked down the man, who faces a potential misdemeanor charge of fleeing an accident scene.

While all other Lake County municipalities have their own police forces, Winfield has not created one since its inception in 1993.

Dominguez said Monday his department did respond to the 911 call over the weekend.

"We responded by giving advice to the caller," Dominguez said.

That caller, who witnessed the accident, told The Times she was told to call state police, while the gas station manager said he was told to call town officials.

Dominguez said because the call involved a one-car accident with no injuries and only property damage, the dispatcher referred it to state police.

"Dispatchers make those decisions every day," he said.

Dominguez vowed in mid-September to stop police service in Winfield on Oct. 1 if the town didn't pay a $100,000 fee for the year.

Dominguez said in a letter to the Town Council that the town of about 4,000 residents broke state law for 17 years by not fielding its own police force.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller declined Monday to comment specifically on Winfield's policing issues but referred The Times to a 1985 attorney general's opinion that outlined the responsibilities of county sheriffs.

In that opinion, Attorney General Linley Pearson said, "The sheriff is responsible to respond to calls from the public in incorporated areas except for violation of city and town ordinances."

Pearson did not specify any penalty a sheriff might face for not responding to calls.

He also suggested that while cities and towns are not obligated to provide police services, "a city or town should provide law enforcement services if it is necessary to efficiently fulfill the needs of the city's citizens."

Attorney general's opinions, which are not legally binding, tend to be respected by courts and are intended to guide government officials through complicated legal questions.

Dominguez said Monday a new state law since Winfield was incorporated in 1993 outweighs Pearson's 25-year-old opinion.

The state statute says Winfield "shall" appoint a town marshal, Dominguez said.

And case law since the statute was enacted says the town has a duty to appoint a town marshal, Dominguez said.

"The statute and case law is what governs," said Dominguez, who is also a lawyer.

Dominguez said Lake County's providing Winfield with ongoing police patrols without reimbursement has strained the cash-strapped Sheriff's Department.

Many town residents remained concerned Monday about the lack of police protection, and some were unsure who to call in an emergency.

"I don't think it's right," resident Pam Heich said of losing Lake County police service.

She thinks the county should work with the town to help the community start providing its own police protection.

Heich said she is unsure if she will attend the special Town Council meeting, but she is anxious to find out what the council will accomplish.

"You can voice your opinion, but they're still going to do what they want to do," Heich said.

Teresa Eineman, superintendent of Crown Point Community School Corp., said Winfield Elementary and Jerry Ross Elementary schools in Winfield "are well covered by security" even though Lake County patrols have ended in the town.

She said the school corporation has its own security, and it can contact Lake County in emergency situations as well as Crown Point police.

"We're covered, as we always have been," Eineman said.

Times Staff Writers Dan Carden and Susan Brown contributed to this report.

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