On the job

Often, they work alone. Even so, small-town police departments are a key to keeping their communities safe.

-Messenger file photo by Hans Madsen
Dayton Police Chief Nick Dunbar holds his helmet along with the name tag from the late Colin Murphy’s turnout gear locker in the Dayton fire station. Dunbar is also the Dayton fire chief and a member of the Dayton Rescue Squad.

When the residents of some of Webster County’s smaller towns are the victim of a crime, or need assistance, they count on the officers of their hometown police departments to be there.

Four Webster County towns have their own police departments: Dayton, Gowrie, Otho and Duncombe. The latter two share a police department.

Being a small-town police officer isn’t much different than being an officer in a larger town, according to Dayton Police Chief Nick Dunbar.

“We’re responsible for patrol and investigations,” Dunbar said. “We also take care or enforce our city’s nuisance code. Really, it’s no different than Fort Dodge, Webster County, etc. It’s just smaller.”

Gowrie Police Chief Patrick Monaghan said they don’t always have the same tools as a larger department, but they’re still able to fulfill their duties as law enforcement.

-Messenger file photo by Peter Kaspari
Gowrie Police Chief Patrick Monaghan demonstrates how the dashboard camera system works in his patrol vehicle. The camera system, which includes a body camera, was partially funded by Webster County Crime Stoppers.

“We don’t necessarily have as many resources as some of the bigger departments,” Monghan said. “We take all the normal calls any department takes and we also are kind of, in a sense, in charge of animal control or helping the city with anything the city has going on.”

He added, “It’s a wide array of everything.”

Otho/Duncombe Police Chief Jenny Randleman said her responsibilities are similar.

“I get called out if we get calls here,” she said. “We just take care of a lot of things that other cities have multiple departments that handle it.”

The small-town police departments also have a small, but dedicated, group of officers.

-Messenger file photo by Peter Kaspari
Otho/Duncombe Police Chief Jenny Randleman makes a call on her radio in her squad car. Randleman has been the police chief in Otho and Duncombe since Feb. 9, 2017.

Dunbar said his department includes one full-time officer and five reserves.

“The reserves typically pick up my days off,” he said. “They’ll go out and patrol.”

Monaghan has four reserve officers that help him out.

Randleman is the only officer assigned to both Otho and Duncombe.

That can be challenging at times, she said.

Dunbar, who worked for about a year as a Fort Dodge police officer, said he’s noticed that is the unique challenge with small-town departments.

“When I worked in Fort Dodge, you have multiple officers out working at any given time,” Dunbar said. “If you have a domestic call, or a call that requires two officers, sometimes it takes awhile for another officer to get to Dayton.”

“Overall, you’re typically by yourself,” he said. “It kind of changes your mentality and tactics and how you approach things.”

Monaghan said sometimes being a small-town police officer means traveling outside of town for work.

“When we’re doing an investigation, it can be a challenge if somebody doesn’t live in town,” he said. “Having to go to another town to set up an interview or take somebody’s statement. It gets kind of difficult.”

Randleman said that can be difficult if she encounters a situation she’s unsure how to handle.

But at the same time, she has help.

“I don’t really have anyone here that can help me,” she said. “It’s really helpful that all the departments in our county are good at the random questions I have.”

Both Dayton and Gowrie’s police departments have been particularly helpful.

“They’re always willing to help,” Randleman said. “That’s the hardest part, is sometimes I’m not sure what to do.”

Part of that backup is the Webster County Sheriff’s Department, which is always available for help.

“If I’m not available, one of the other guys can take the call,” Dunbar said. “We also have mutual aid from the Sheriff’s Department.”

None of the three police chiefs have set hours. All of them are on call 24/7, and all of them change the hours they are actually on patrol.

But regardless if an officer is on patrol or not, Monaghan said the officers are always available to help if called upon for assistance.

“And even when I’m not working or whoever’s not working, we’re still on call,” he said. “We do our best to respond to everything, no matter what time of day it is.”

When the chiefs were asked what they enjoyed the most about being a police officer in a small town, all three gave the same answer: they get to know the community members one on one.

“We’re a town of about 850 people, and I would probably venture to guess 80 percent know me by name,” Dunbar said. “It works out well because, you know, typically everyone’s backgrounds of who you’re dealing with and how to talk to that particular individual.”

Randleman said that one-on-one interaction helps build relationships.

“People know me, so they feel really comfortable talking to me,” she said. “And that also helps me if I need help with something.”

Monaghan said it’s also nice to know the community outside of being a law enforcement officer.

“We get to see them at different events throughout town,” he said. “And just getting to know people on a level other than just law enforcement-related.”

Small-town police officers of Webster County

Dayton Police Department

Chief Nick Dunbar

Lead Reserve Officer Dylan Hagen

Reserve Officer Steven Fiebiger

Reserve Officer Lucas Burns

Reserve Officer Andy Pepples

Reserve Officer Luke Hainzinger

Gowrie Police Department

Chief Patrick Monaghan

Reserve Officer John Garretson

Reserve Officer Will Fevold

Reserve Officer Austin Promes

Reserve Officer Austin Scott

Otho/Duncombe Police Department

Chief Jenny Randleman