Officer suspended pending theft case

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By Stephen Lega

An April 19 incident involving a Lebanon Police officer at Higdon's Foodtown IGA is under investigation.

A uniform citation by a Kentucky State Trooper reads that Jeffrey Waters, 45, of 182 Hamilton Heights allegedly put four no-bake cookies into a bag and only paid for two cookies. A May 5 summons reads that Waters is accused of two counts of theft by deception. The summons accused Waters of obtaining merchandise from Higdon's IGA by "creating a false impression the packaging of other items purchased also included the merchandise unlawfully taken."

A hearing is scheduled for May 17 in Marion District Court.

Lebanon Police Chief Joe Bell said that Waters has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the case.

Suspension adds to personnel issues in department

Waters' suspension adds further strain to the Lebanon Police Department, which has been operating short-handed.

Bell said that two years ago the Lebanon Police Department had 17 positions for police officers. That was cut back to 15 positions during the 2009-10 fiscal year.

But for the time being, the police department has just 12 full-time officers on duty, and two of them are unavailable for the time being. As a result, Bell and Assistant Chief Wally Brady have been assisting with patrol duties. That also means Brady has not been available to be the school resource officer in Marion County Public Schools.

Bell said that Sgt. Mike Luckett is out with an illness and officer Johnson "Reece" Riley is out with a shoulder injury. Bell said Riley's injury was the result of dealing with a combative subject.

Recently, officer Brandon Blair accepted a position with Fayette County Schools.

And Bell noted that two other officers, who he declined to identify, have expressed an interest in seeking other positions.

"I want them to stay," he said.

Bell added that he does not think his appointment as chief is a factor in those decisions. He said he knew that Blair had been seeking another job for a while. As for the other officers, he understands that money could be a factor.

"Everybody's looking to improve themselves in this economy," Bell said.

The personnel situation was further compounded when officer J.D. Holliday was activated by the Army Reserves to serve in Afghanistan and with Waters' recent suspension.

As a result, the police department has 10 officers (including the chief and assistant chief) available for the time being.

"We've got officers working half shifts along with their regular shifts," Bell said.

The department is looking to fill up to three positions. Bell said one officer is going through the police academy now.

"He should get out in late July," Bell said.

And this past Saturday, the police tested individuals who are interested in serving as police officers.

"Hopefully, before the end of the year, we'll fill [those positions]," Bell said.

Anyone interested in serving on the Lebanon Police Department should contact city hall for an application. Lebanon City Hall is located at 118 S. Proctor Knott Avenue. The phone number is (270) 692-6272.