New police chief, town aim to unite

Herald Staff Writer

FERDINAND — The Ferdinand Town Council unanimously selected the town’s new police chief and assistant chief during a special meeting Tuesday evening.


The council selected as chief Ricky Patton, 43, a Virginia native now living in Jasper. Patton, who has experience as a Virginia State Police officer, has accepted the job and will be hired as a patrolman. He will be promoted to chief immediately upon passing required standard tests, which he plans to take Monday.

“I feel very honored to have this opportunity and I look forward to working with the community and my fellow officers to maintain the safety of the community,” Patton said this morning, noting he grew up in a small town similar to Ferdinand.

Former chief Ted Bieker, now a captain on the force, stepped down as chief May 17 amid ongoing conflict with the council and the town manager. He returned to duty this morning after having been on leave since the May 14 council meeting when he announced his resignation.

Patton moved to Jasper in October when his wife of 16 years, Amy, was transferred to the MasterBrand Cabinets corporate office. He most recently worked at Jasper Engines & Transmissions, but was a trooper with the Virginia State Police from June 2004 to January 2013. He spent six of those years as a field training officer, certifying new troopers to be placed on their own patrols.

Patton served in the U.S. Navy as an aviation electronics technician maintaining carrier jets and helicopters aboard the USS Saipan out of Norfolk, Va. He was deployed four times, twice during Operation Desert Storm, once in Bosnia and once in Haiti before he was honorably discharged in 1995.

He also owned and operated a small trucking company, R&A Enterprise out of Hillsville, Va., from 1998 to 2004.

Council President Ken Sicard said after the meeting that Patton’s business management experience, which includes scheduling and budgeting, helped tip the scales.

“From what I picked up from interviews with other people, his trucking business was doing fine, but his love was that he always wanted to be a state trooper,” Sicard said.

Four current Ferdinand officers also applied for the job. Councilwoman Debbie Johnson said each of the four men was given equal consideration with Patton and a sixth applicant from Louisiana.

“While we have all wonderful candidates in our own department, it is a good idea to have someone from outside come in that doesn’t have any kind of preconceived ideas about how things are done, that can maybe bring some fresh and new ideas to the department,” she said.

Councilman Ron Weyer said he thought hiring from outside the department would better reunite what he thinks is a divided police force.

Patton must move to within a two-mile drive of Ferdinand within a year of his hiring. He also must meet all requirements set for him by the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy within a year. After meeting those requirements, he will remain on probation for another six months.

The council also promoted Rob Randle, who has acted as interim chief since May, from lieutenant to assistant chief. The assistant chief’s position existed in the town’s code but was unfilled until now.

“It’s nice to be noticed for all my hard work the last few weeks getting the department turned around,” Randle said this morning.

Randle said he and his fellow officers who applied for the chief’s position, all of whom attended Tuesday’s meeting and who Randle said all have more years in law enforcement than Patton, are disappointed.

“Disappointment maybe could be an understatement to some of them,” he said. “When someone is hired from within the department, you already know that officer, his temperament and what lines you can’t cross with him. You already have a feel for him. With (Patton), there’s a lot of anxiety. None of us has met him; we know nothing of him.”

Johnson said the council understands the officers’ concerns about hiring a newcomer as chief.
“Change is difficult,” she said. “Right now, the officers don’t know what to expect. They haven’t met him and so they’re concerned about their positions and the shifts they’ve been working. I would be concerned too, if I had a new boss, but we did it because we thought it was the right thing for the community and the right thing for our staff.”

Randle said Patton will have a steep learning curve as a new chief in a new department and in a new town, particularly after the controversy surrounding Bieker’s resignation that has some residents very upset and calling for his reinstatement.

“It’s going to be a long process, and I believe that’s why the board named me as assistant chief because (Patton) will have to lean on someone pretty hard at first,” Randle said. “It’s a large hurdle, to be truthful. It’s going to be difficult until everything settles in.”

Patton said he is aware of the situation and is hopeful that both the officers and residents can keep an open mind.

“Respect has to be earned anyway,” he said. “If you do the job you’re supposed to be doing and treat the people fairly, the respect will follow.”

Don Farina Sr. voiced his opinions on the matter at last week’s regular monthly council meeting and again Tuesday night. He accused the council of lying to the public about having made no decision on who would become chief in advance of a closed session Tuesday before the public announcement.

The council vehemently denied the claim, though Sicard confirmed this morning that he began looking for potential candidates from outside the department in April. The council members and Town Manager Marc Steczyk met with Patton individually that month after he had been recommended to Sicard by another area law enforcement agency.

“I was trying to do my homework,” Sicard said. “I had already made my decision that I would ask Ted to step down and was looking for people who might be interested in becoming chief. I knew some of our existing officers would apply, and I wanted more people to apply than the three applicants we got the last time we looked for a chief.”

The council members said they made their decision based on what they felt was in the town’s best interests. Sicard added he hopes the police department can continue on in a positive direction.

“It’s time we healed,” said Town Manager Marc Steczyk, who oversees all the town’s department heads. “At this point, it’s not just affecting the police department, but it’s all departments. It’s time to bring the family back together and move forward.”

Patton will be paid an annual salary of $48,100. Randle will be paid $21.51 per hour, the same rate he was given as interim chief.

Patton’s hiring fills out the town’s roster of six full-time officers, which had been short one person since Donna Hurt took a position with the Dubois County Sheriff’s Department in April.

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