Warsaw Police Department demonstrated strength in numbers, with most of the rank-and-file showing up at Monday’s Warsaw Common Council meeting to support Chief Scott Whitaker in light of the events of Jan. 25 and the council’s consideration of hiring an outside investigator to look into the matter.

As a result of that support, the common council didn't bother taking a vote on the matter. Instead, council members Mike Klondaris and Jack Wilhite indicated they were swayed by the show of support and changed their minds about the need to hire an investigator.

Whitaker claimed that night, while off duty, he had to take evasive action to avoid a collision with a motorist driving erratically. He followed the motorist home, and by the time Whitaker arrived the motorist had gone inside the home, and her husband had come outside to put the car in the garage.

The motorist admitted she had poor eyesight and doesn’t normally drive after dark.

Whitaker is alleged to have confronted the husband. In his report of the incident, Whitaker said he “assisted” the man to his knees. In video released to the public, the man says he was “shoved” to the ground.

An Indiana State Police investigation found no wrongdoing in the incident. Whitaker apologized to the couple for his actions in a press conference Feb. 22, but added that he wouldn’t have done anything differently.

Two officers, Jason Dobbins and Ross Minear, were suspended for 10 days without pay on March 8 for allegedly sharing body cam video from on-duty officers at the scene with council members. Neither officer was at the scene that night, nor at Monday night’s meeting.

Council member Jeff Grose began the discussion asking to address what he called "five major realities." First, the two citizens never took action against the city or Whitaker. Next, a veteran ISP investigator cleared Whitaker of any wrongdoing, and the county prosecutor followed suit, and an investigation would say that the council didn't trust either of them to make a good decision.

Fourth, Klondaris, Wilhite and Jean Northern, a long-time Republican Party activist, had a meeting with Mayor Joe Thallemer in his office, but Grose said he didn’t understand why that meeting was necessary when Thallemer had been “open and transparent” during the investigation.

Lastly, he said 30 of 34 WPD officers had a chance to speak with Thallemer and offer insight to the police chief’s leadership and his ability to promote a “sound working environment.”

“It greatly disappoints me that this legislative body has ignored the 11 hours of interviews that has gone on. If we’re questioning the integrity of about half of the department, who is here tonight, that greatly disappoints me,” he said.

Klondaris said he’d rather have been anyplace else than to have to go through the meeting, but he wanted to ensure the citizens of Warsaw could trust the police.

At that point a long line of officers spoke in defense of Whitaker. Every officer who spoke had at least five years on the job.

Almost to a man, the officers took exception to a quote from Klondaris in the Times-Union last week.

“After (Dobbins and Minear) are done with their 10-day suspension without pay, they’re going to be going back to a work environment that is toxic and maybe tough, presided over by people who made these charges against them. And if there is a hostile work environment, then I want to know about it,” Klondaris said in the March 14 story. “And I want to know about it right now, because you can’t do that in any workplace. You can’t work at Zimmer Biomet, at Da-Lite, Owens or anyplace with a hostile workplace environment. There are laws against that.”

Several officers said calling their work environment toxic was without merit, and challenged Klondaris to explain why he would say it was. At one point Klondaris said, “I’m not on trial here,” and at another point he said he’d rather resign from the council than to endure the line of questioning.

After about 75 minutes of officer testimony, along with a few private citizens, Klondaris expressed his change of heart in the matter. Mike Cox, who retired from the department four years ago after 32 years on the job, said that a special investigator wouldn’t find anything different than the ISP did. Klondaris then spoke after Cox.

“Mike, you and I have known each other quite a long time,” Klondaris said. “Personally, I’ve heard enough. I’ll probably catch hell for this, but I’m going to rescind my request.” He added he thought   there were “misdeeds, miscalculations, misstatements and misunderstandings throughout, and maybe some missed opportunities.”

After another speaker, Wilhite stated he would withdraw his support for the outside investigation, and expressed his ongoing support of the police with apologies. Most of the council members expressed an interest in going on ride-alongs and doing other things to get to know officers better.

“I’d be willing to ride with you, if you’ll still have me,” Wilhite said.

Council President Diane Quance  reminded the officers in attendance that if they have a grievance, the procedure of how to handle it is covered in the city employee handbook.

“You say there’s not a problem in the department. Now go out and prove it,” she said.

Thallemer said he was glad the council had the discussion and was able to talk it out. Quance then closed that portion of the meeting by saying she would consider the matter over.

In other business, the council:

• Had a first reading of a new comprehensive financial policy for the city. The policy will help keep the city’s bond ratings high and spell out what can be done in special situations, such as a natural disaster.

• Heard a presentation regarding Lake City Bank’s multi-million dollar investment in the community in recent years and the 146-year partnership between the city and the bank.

• Transferred funds for janitorial services. The city previously had contracted cleaning services, but now has city employees to perform the work.

• Authorized a new street light on Park Avenue at a bus stop between Market and Center streets.

• Continued a tax abatement with Freedom Oil. The company has complied with the terms of the agreement, spending about $1.8 million on improvements at its businesses, primarily by building a new facility in the 400 block of Argonne Road.

The next common council meeting will be at 7 p.m. March 28.