Following months of debate, the Gambier Village Council unanimously voted to approve a revised contract with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) on Monday, Aug. 3. The contract is designed to provide law enforcement services to the Village in exchange for compensation.
The revised four-year agreement features a number of changes to the previous contract, including Village input on any deputy appointments, the reduction of deputy working hours and the establishment of grounds for deputy removal following misconduct. The Council invited community members to express their concerns during the Aug. 3 meeting, which was held via Zoom.
Heading into the negotiations, some Gambier community members, such as Audrey Mueller ’22, wanted more power to regulate deputies assigned to patrol the Village.
“I wanted to see the revised contract shift a lot more power and control over the sheriff and his deputies in Gambier,” Mueller said, “back to the Village Council. It is — in my understanding — a delegated law enforcement power.”
Mueller, representing the Black Student Union’s (BSU) Sheriff Committee, has been involved in conversations regarding the Gambier-KCSO contract for the better part of a year. The contract came under intense scrutiny after an incident in September of last year, when KCSO Sheriff Deputy Kevin Williams stopped a group of BSU students and alumni driving a golf cart during the group’s 50th anniversary weekend. The incident sparked meetings between Kenyon administrators and KCSO representatives, and inspired closer examinations of Gambier’s contract from students.
Despite limitations imposed by the police union and Ohio state law, Mueller approved of the changes made to the contract. One such change is the Village’s new ability to remove deputies “for cause.” According to the contract, such a cause includes “gross negligence or willful misconduct in the performance of services under this Agreement or conduct constituting misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance, wrongful arrest, assault, battery, property damage, bodily injury, or wrongful death.”
Mueller noted that the Village also tried to include harassment, discrimination, emotional distress, and other similar clauses. They were not able to reach an agreement, however, and instead opted for the ability to cancel their contract.
Mayor Leeman Kessler ’04 emphasized that an abundance of information is paramount when it comes to reporting incidents of misconduct to the Sheriff’s office, since without sufficient evidence, the KCSO can present officer records showing no signs of controversy — shutting down claims of misconduct.
“If our community is concerned surrounding the Sheriff office in general or an officer in specific,” Kessler said, “then we need to have information and data to inform our decisions and empower us to have these conversations with the Sheriff’s office.”
This new agreement also stipulates that — over the course of four years — the Village can terminate its contract within 60 days of notice to the KCSO, without any reimbursement for the remaining term. Furthermore, the Village will no longer be responsible for covering unemployment costs of deputies as they had done previously.
Additionally, the Council negotiated the removal of a provision that valued the conditions of the police union above the requests of the Village. The original term stipulated that if a Village request to remove a deputy contradicted the Sheriff’s union, then the Village’s request would be rendered mute. Now, the Village can no longer be overruled by the police union. Moreover, the Village will be consulted when the Sheriff’s Office makes personnel changes in Gambier, which has not been the case in the past.
At the meeting, residents inquired about the amount of deputy presence in the Village, and specifically expressed concerns regarding deputies’ hours and how their officers would operate during vacation time or sick days.
To this point, Mayor Kessler said that the Village reduced the amount of deputy coverage from 80 hours to 40 hours. However, precisely when these hours are fulfilled was not stipulated in the contract. Kessler said that scheduling of deputies’ work hours falls under the mutual discussions between the Village and the Sheriff’s office.
“If they try to give us hours that are completely unworkable or make no sense, then I think we would continue discussing until we have an agreement that we can all come to,” Kessler said.
Mayor Kessler stated that the Village is currently planning to have a single deputy working from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
BSU President Djibril Branche ’23 inquired as to the Village’s contractual ability to recommend where deputies spend the most time during their patrols. According to Bailey, as per the contract, the Village could recommend deputies to focus on the Village Streets or Wiggin Street Elementary School. In the past, it has requested deputies to concentrate their efforts , asking officers to write parking tickets for cars blocking school buses or to supervise areas overrun with speeding cars.
Mayor Kessler stated that deputies have jurisdiction to carry out their law enforcement duties throughout the county, and that there are no areas where officers are forbidden to go.
“All this contract does is try to set parameters around how the additional coverage with the Sheriff’s office is applied,” Kessler said. “That’s to make sure we are looking out for the interests of the Village, and all of our residents and visitors.”
Branche also pointed to the distinct absence of Kenyon in the contract. To this, Bailey explained that Kenyon was not one of the three parties — the Village, county and Sheriff’s Office — included in the agreement.“Kenyon is obviously a very important part of the Village,” he said. “[But the College] wasn’t directly relevant to the negotiation of the terms of the agreement.”
While the revised contract features a number of improvements, Mueller and Branche both feel that there is more work to be done.
“The Village Council has been talking about creating a forum through which students can report any misconduct or incidents that happen, and so we want to make sure that is as accessible as possible,” Mueller said. “That’s how any case for removal will be built.”
Since the contract does not specify deputy working hours, Mueller hopes that officers will mainly work during the day in order to avoid nighttime incidents, and that deputies will spend less time in general on Kenyon’s campus.
Branche recognized that law enforcement on campus is complicated. He appreciated that the suggestions of the BSU Sheriff Committee received serious consideration in the revised contract. However, Branche knows that reform cannot be achieved solely through the Village Council.
Branche noted that Kenyon expressed a desire to rethink their relationship with law enforcement. The BSU and its Sheriff Committee have taken a hard look at policing on campus, and have clear goals for reform.
“Policing on campus is very multi-faceted and isn’t simply something that we can overhaul through any one channel,” Branche later wrote in an email to the Collegian. “It will take a lot of research and planning but we can make significant positive change.”
News Assistant Amanda Pyne contributed to reporting.