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After Years Of Turmoil, Another Kirkersville Police Chief Takes The Reins

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Debbie Holmes
/
WOSU
Kirkersville Police Chief Jason Harget is the town's fourth chief in two years.

As he rebuilds the department from scratch, Kirkersville Police Chief Jason Harget also knows he wants to renovate.

“This used to be an old bank, obviously there’s some storage upstairs here,” Harget says, giving a tour of the downtown police headquarters. “As you can see, there’s still a lot of the old bank alarm stuff when they had the vault, which the vault is still here, which I think is very unique.”

Large cracks stretch along the walls and parts of the ceiling are missing. Harget, a 21- year police veteran, says Kirkersville Mayor Terry Ashcraft promises to pay for repairs.

The past two years have been difficult for many in Kirkersville, a village in Licking County just off I-70. In May 2017, former Police Chief Steven Disario died after a gunman shot him and two other women near a nursing home.

Disario's replacement, Jeff Finley, resigned in March after a dispute with the mayor. Then Finley’s replacement, James Hughes Jr., died two months later from a drug overdose.

Harget says he decided that was the time to apply for the position.

“The reason I took the job is because this community deserves a professional police department,” Harget says.

Investigators say Hughes took the drugs from an evidence room. Harget says he plans to tighten up how officers handle evidence.

“We have to log the evidence in, log the evidence out,” Harget says. “Each penny has to be accounted for. We have to know exactly where that’s at. If it’s not here, where is it? And who signed it out and did it go to the lab or is it back in our evidence?”

Harget also says he has a good relationship with the mayor, who former Finley said created a hostile work environment by needing to be in control of everything.

“It’s been great,” Harget says. “I sat down with the mayor before I took the position, and the only thing I asked him to do was let me run the police department. He’s my boss, so obviously we’ll have that great communication and that’s going to be key.”

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Credit Debbie Holmes / WOSU
Chief Jason Harget stands outside the Kirkersville Police Department in downtown Kirkersville. He's the town's only full-time officer.

Since October, Harget’s been working at least 20 hours a week as chief and gets paid $20 an hour. It’s the town’s only paid police position, but he's working to bring in six volunteer officers. So far, he has two.

“This is the issue, we’ve got to get them trained,” Harget says. "I just can’t release them. So they’re going to be here with me. So they’ll have two officers until they get them trained.”

Harget worked 11 years with the police department of nearby Baltimore, Ohio. He now holds a fulltime police position for Ohio Health at Grant Hospital, where he works second shift. Previous chiefs in this community of fewer than 600 people also worked part time. 

Even in a small town, Harget says it’s important to get out on the streets. Inside his police cruiser, Harget says even though not much happens on a daily basis in Kirkersville, officers need to be on alert.

“Just because we have a quiet community, we don’t know who's coming through our community,” he says.

Harget says he watches for speeders, especially in the elementary school zone.

“So we try to be, at least myself and my team out here, is going to be proactive,” Harget says. “We need to be seen in the cruiser. They need to see our tires moving, waving at kids, waving at families. Again, that’s deterrence.”

Harget says he hopes to get three more paid officers in Kirkersville early next year, but it could be another six months before they are ready to respond to calls.

“Obviously, it could change in a minute,” Harget says. “We could have any type of incident. Just because it’s Kirkersville, again, we have two state highways and an interstate that comes through our village, so again, the call for service, we have no idea what it would be.”

Harget says he wants to remain Kirkersville police chief for a long time. For the time being, he expects it will take many hours to establish the department with the right officers.

“It’s kind of tough when you don’t pay officers because again it’s hard to get free help, you know,” Harget says.