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Today's News

County Officials, Koontz Lake Fire Department Resolve Medical Call Issue

Sheriff Oscar Cowen, Council President Dave Pearman, EMA Director Ted Bombagetti, EMS Director Paul Mathewson, Chief Dispatcher Dawn Bau, Koontz Lake Fire Chief Andy Lawrence and Oregon Township Trustee Mark Allen

Sheriff Oscar Cowen, Council President Dave Pearman, EMA Director Ted Bombagetti, EMS Director Paul Mathewson, Chief Dispatcher Dawn Bau, Koontz Lake Fire Chief Andy Lawrence and Oregon Township Trustee Mark Allen

County officials have offered the Koontz Lake Volunteer Fire Department what they hope is a workable option to make sure they are able to respond in tandem with Starke County EMS to all medical calls. Members of the fire department took exception with the county’s policy to let Grovertown-based Medic 5 decide whether they need their assistance, saying the department has provided medical services to year-round and seasonal residents since its establishment in the early 1940s. Starke County Council President Dave Pearman, who is also a volunteer firefighter, says public safety is the county’s number one concern. He says the Koontz Lake Fire Department’s pagers can be programmed to get the EMS calls automatically. He says it will cost the township about $30 per pager.

Township Trustee Mark Allen called a meeting of fire department, EMS, dispatch, sheriff’s office, emergency management and county government representatives. “The whole purpose of this meeting wasn’t trying to point fingers at anybody. I think some people might have thought about that in the meeting, but it’s not the case. This was just a matter of everybody getting on the same page and working for what’s best for the township. At least now we have an option. Actually Dave had a good suggestion. That was never suggested before. That would have been great to know that,” Allen told WKVI news after the meeting. Continue reading

Starke County Sheriff Warns of Telephone Scam

Several Starke County residents have gotten telephone calls recently stating that their grandson or granddaughter is in jail and they need to send $6,000 right away in order to bail them out. Sheriff Oscar Cowen says these calls are scams. He says the best thing to do is hang up on the person. If you are worried your grandchild may be in trouble, ask the caller for a telephone number, hang up, and check to make sure your grandchild is not in jail. A red flag in any sort of telephone scam is a request to either send money via wire transfer, as that money is untraceable and cannot be recovered. Scammers also ask people to load funds to a prepaid credit card and use it as a means to transfer money. Again, these funds cannot be traced and are virtually impossible to recover.

Starke Sheriff’s Dept. to Look Into Auctioning Items

Sheriff Oscar Cowen

Sheriff Oscar Cowen

The Starke County Commissioners at their meeting this week continued discussion regarding the sale of police vehicles. Sheriff Oscar Cowen approached the commissioners and explained that he is interested in selling three vehicles to help fund the purchase of a new prisoner transport van. Cowen said the department recently retired a Crown Victoria police cruiser, and he would like to sell that vehicle, the old transport van and a DARE trailer. County Attorney Martin Lucas explained that any items valued at more than $1000 must be advertised and sold at a public auction, sealed bid sale, internet sale, or other public sale.

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Starke County Sheriff to Investigate Options to Sell Vehicles

Starke County Sheriff Oscar Cowen

Starke County Sheriff Oscar Cowen

The Starke County Commissioners this week authorized Sheriff Oscar Cowen to investigate the options available for selling vehicles to raise some extra funds to be used to purchase a new transport van. Cowen approached the commissioners at their meeting Wednesday and explained that the department’s current prisoner transport van is getting old and is in bad shape, and he would like to sell three vehicles to raise money to purchase a new one.

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Starke County Officials Break Ground on New Jail

Work will start next week on the new Starke County Sheriff’s Department and Detention Center. County officials turned ceremonial shovels of dirt yesterday during the official groundbreaking for the $14 million project. The 146 bed jail will replace the existing 63 bed facility across from the courthouse. It opened in 1976, and Sheriff Oscar Cowen says a lot has changed since he joined the department in May of 1980.

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Groundbreaking Scheduled for New Sheriff’s Department and Detention Center

This building on SR 8 at CR 550 E will soon house the new Starke County Jail.

This building on SR 8 at CR 550 E will soon house the new Starke County Sheriff’s Department and Detention Center.

Starke County officials will break ground for the Starke County Sheriffs Department and Detention Center east of Knox on State Road 8 on Thursday, Nov. 7. The public is welcome to attend the hour-long ceremony, which will begin at 10 a.m. The new 146 bed facility will more than double the capacity of the existing jail, which can hold up to 63 prisoners. The project was prompted by a federal lawsuit due to overcrowding at the jail.

“We’re housing an average of 15-20 prisoners a day in other jail facilities and have had up to 30 Starke County prisoners in the Pulaski County Jail. We are desperate to get this project done,” Sheriff Oscar Cowen said. His term as sheriff ends in 2014, and he’s not eligible to run for reelection due to term limits.

The project timeline calls for completion of the work in two stages. The sheriff’s department will be done by May of 2014, and the detention pods and 911 center will be finished by April of 2015. Bids for the project came in at $13.1 million.

Starke County Council Discusses Next Sheriff’s Compensation

 The pool of candidates interested in becoming Starke County’s next sheriff may shrink based on pending action by the county council to drastically reduce the pay for that position during the next term. Incumbent Sheriff Oscar Cowen earns $102,000 per year in salary plus proceeds from tax warrants, based on the terms of the contract he negotiated with the county. That can’t be changed, but state law does allow the county council to set the next sheriff’s compensation rate prior to the election. A law passed in 1993 requires the sheriff to earn at least 60-percent of what the prosecutor is paid, and that salary of roughly $125,000 is set by the state based on the county’s population. That means the next Starke County sheriff will be paid at least $75,000. Continue reading

Starke Commissioners Discuss Transient Merchant License, Door-to-Door Salespeople

Starke County Sheriff Oscar Cowen

Starke County Sheriff Oscar Cowen

While no reports have been received of pushy door-to-door merchants in Starke County, the commissioners this week discussed the matter and tossed around the idea of enacting an ordinance to further protect residents from aggressive sales tactics commonly employed by traveling merchants.

County Auditor Kay Chaffins explained that a transient merchant license is required for any person, firm, limited liability company or corporation that conducts business in the state in one location or by traveling place to place offering for sale goods, wares, or merchandise. She explained the license is valid for six months at a cost of $100, and after the license expires, the merchant must file with the county auditor a list of items sold to county residents and their cost. That information would then be forwarded to the state department of revenue. Those who hold registered retail merchant’s certificates are exempt from requiring this license.

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Starke Commissioners Table Holiday Pay Discussion

The Starke County Commissioners this week tabled a discussion regarding holiday pay for a former sheriff’s department employee. Ron Lawson had been an employee of the sheriff’s department for many years as a detective, and he was also a patrolman for some time, and he told the commissioners that he has not received holiday pay that he feels he is entitled to.

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Report Suspicious Activity to Starke County Police Immediately

Sheriff Oscar Cowen

Sheriff Oscar Cowen

Starke County Sheriff Oscar Cowen is encouraging you to report any suspicious activity to the dispatch center as soon as it happens.

Cowen said that he has heard several reports of a Caucasian woman and an African-American man attempting to sell cleaning products door-to-door in the county during non-business hours. They are reportedly driving a white and green van and are attempting to force their way into homes.

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Starke County Council Approves Sheriff’s Request For Second New Vehicle

Sheriff Oscar Cowen

Sheriff Oscar Cowen

Starke County Sheriff Oscar Cowen gets to go car shopping, as the county council this week approved his request to purchase a second new squad car.

The council had previously heard a request from Cowen for three new squad cars before the end of the year, but the council decided to approve the first vehicle and see where they’d be budget-wise toward the end of the year. Since then, Cowen said he has received the first car, but now he’s back to see about getting the second.

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Starke County Jail Visitor Injured By Falling Concrete

Starke County Sheriff's Department

Starke County Sheriff Oscar Cowen is reviewing video tape of an incident that occurred at the Starke County Jail Sunday night.

According to Cowen, a piece of concrete fell through the ceiling in the lobby at the jail which reportedly injured a visitor. The incident happened during visiting hours at the jail.

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Pulaski County Instrumental In Keeping Starke County Jail Population Down

David Pearman

With the Starke County Jail construction project pending, Starke County Sheriff Oscar Cowen and the county officials are still dealing with overcrowding issues in the jail. Some inmates are being housed in the Pulaski County Jail, per an agreement, to help in the overcrowding situation.

Starke County Council President David Pearman said that he hopes that agreement will continue until the new jail is built.

“The state has certified our jail for 62 beds and as we approach that number, we will continue to house inmates outside our jail in another facility. Hopefully, Pulaski County will want to continue working with us.”

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Detectives Investigating Inmate Injury At Starke County Jail

Starke County Sheriff's Department

An internal investigation is being conducted into allegations of how an inmate was injured in the Starke County Jail.

Starke County Sheriff Oscar Cowen confirmed that an inmate was injured while incarcerated in the jail. Luther Lovins had been arrested by North Judson police on July 12 for a charge of Disorderly Conduct. He was released on July 26.

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Starke County Cleanup Efforts Continue In Wake Of Storm

Crews work on the tower at the Starke County Sheriff's Department

The Starke County Sheriff’s Department’s radio tower suffered quite a bit of damage from this week’s storm. Sheriff Oscar Cowen says a maintenance crew has come in and removed the portion of the tower that was damaged, and the department has had to re-adapt the antenna to allow them to stay in operation until they can have the tower replaced.

Currently, Cowen says they are waiting for the insurance company to come out and look at the damage to determine what they will replace it with, or what kind of antenna they will be putting up in its place. Cowen says they are not sure how long it will take before the damage is repaired, but he has heard the tower itself could cost anywhere from $35,000 and up – but they won’t have a certain figure until the insurance adjustor gives them the OK to have a company repair the damage.

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Starke County Sheriff Requests Three New Police Cars

Sheriff Oscar Cowen

Sheriff Oscar Cowen

Starke County Sheriff Oscar Cowen has informed the county commissioners that he is in need of three new cars.

Commission President Kathy Norem asked Cowen to come back with actual quotes, a listing of the current fleet with years in service, and their current mileage.

She also asked Cowen to look at trucks, stating they “have better resale value.”

Sheriff’s Department Handbook To Be Discussed By Starke Commissioners, Sheriff

Starke County Sheriff Oscar Cowen

The Starke County Commissioners have scheduled a work session Monday afternoon to revise the Sheriff’s Department Handbook and to review the recommendations proposed to codify the county’s ordinances.

The Sheriff’s Department Handbook was discussed at this week’s commissioners meeting when Sheriff Oscar Cowen asked for directions on employee vacation time. Because of different shift requirements – some officers working eight hours and others on duty for 12 – vacation time is difficult to compute.

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Starke County Jail Population Nears Boiling Point

Starke County Jail

Fifteen Starke County prisoners are being housed in the Pulaski County Jail after it was decided by county officials and Sheriff Oscar Cowen that the extreme overcrowding was just too dangerous to allow it to continue.

Commissioner Kathy Norem said yesterday that she feared the overcrowding might trigger an outbreak of violence against other prisoners or jail staff. The overcrowding puts extreme pressure on the staff, which may have contributed partially to the recent escape.

Recently, the population ran over 80 prisoners, and it’s hoped that the measure will keep the prison population at 62 or below.

The housing of prisoners in Pulaski County is being accomplished under a temporary agreement.

Starke County Commissioners Table Police Pension Fund Decision

Elaine Beatty and Sheriff Cowen discuss the Police Pension Fund with the Commissioners

Elaine Beatty, an Employee Benefits Consultant, and Sheriff Oscar Cowen appeared before the Starke County Commissioners during the Commissioners’ recent meeting to discuss the Police Pension Fund.

Beatty administers the Police Pension Fund in Starke County and she discussed a new plan for the officers.

“The Indiana Sheriff’s Association really took hold of it and it is available to all the county sheriff’s departments in the State of Indiana,” she told the Commissioners. “Right now, about 60 of them have this program available to their employees. It’s purely voluntary and there’s no cost to the county to add this program. The expenses come out of the investments which are mutual funds that require that expenses come out of them. Those are the fees that are paying organizations like Morgan Stanley for the program so there’s no fees to the membership.”

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Scholarships Available for Criminal Justice Students

Sheriff Oscar Cowen

Sheriff Oscar Cowen

The Indiana Sheriff’s Association will be awarding college scholarships to qualified high school seniors or college students who are pursuing a degree in criminal justice studies. Starke County Sheriff Oscar Cowen encourages you to apply for one of 40$500 scholarships awarded to qualifying students throughout the state.

You must be an Indiana resident, be a current member of the Indiana Sheriff’s Association or a dependent child or grandchild of a current member of the association, attend an Indiana college or university, major in law enforcement field and enroll as a full-time student.

The application deadline is April 1st.