On Tuesday the Hardin City Council voted to form a city police department, initial plans aim to have the force created by the summer.
The 5-1 vote during Tuesday’s city council meeting established a municipal police department and a three-person police commission — while also severing the contract for law enforcement services from the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office.
The estimated cost for the department's first year is $520,000 and about $540,000 for the second, Mayor Joe Purcell said.
The city already pays the sheriff's office $490,000 to provide law enforcement, and those funds will be appropriated to the police department, Purcell said.
The mayor will next establish a police commission comprised of three volunteers. He and the commission will then begin seeking a police chief, he said.
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The police department will be housed in the Ping Building, 415 N. Center Ave., which will require some renovations, Purcell said. The building houses the city court and animal control.
City council member Harry Kautzman said Thursday that he was on the fence about the police force, but ultimately wanted to see more crime prevention for the town. Kautzman voted in favor.
“Hopefully if we have control of law enforcement, things smooth out,” Kautzman said.
Concerned with the level of petty crime and drug-related issues in the town, Kautzman said he’d like to see at least two police officers on duty at a time.
Some of Kautzman's hesitance with the police force would be to repeat the same mistakes as Hardin's last attempt in 2009.
In the summer of 2009, American Police Force — a group claiming to be private security company — swept into Hardin with promises of operating and filling the empty Two Rivers jail in Hardin.
The group's founder, Michael Hilton, also promised to help the city establish its police force and brought in a trio of Mercedes SUVs with magnetic “Hardin Police Department” decals on the sides.
The move caused an uproar and, later that year, Hilton was exposed as a convicted felon and con man. APF packed up and never came back.
In January 2011, the town's only police officer resigned a year after the two other police officers were fired by the city.
This time around, more is being done to ensure checks and balances, Kautzman said, including the commission and a spending limit set up by the council.
Karen Molina, the only council member who voted against the police force, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The impact that the soon-to-be terminated contract will have on the sheriff’s office is unclear. The Big Horn County sheriff did not return a call for comment.