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Galesburg Police Department down to one after chief fired Monday

Galesburg Police Department down to one after chief fired Monday. (File - WWMT)

Galesburg now has a one-man police department after a 4-3 vote Monday to fire the police chief.

Former Galesburg Police Chief Jeff Heppler says he was fired from his job quickly and without warning. Galesburg City Council members decided to terminate Police Heppler’s employment Monday after a 4-3 vote.

Galesburg Mayor Carl Newton said, “Our citizens were unhappy with the response and it was just not working well.”

According to Newton, the decision to fire Heppler came after complaints over slow response times and a lack of police presence in Galesburg.

“I probably see the Galesburg officer probably once every other week,” said Philip Gestwicki.

A local business owner, Gestwicki says his shop has been hit by vandals twice and broken into once.

“It's a little bit upsetting, it's like that’s why we have small town police,” said Gestwicki.

A man who wears many hats, Heppler split his times between Galesburg and the neighboring village of Augusta where he serves as part-time chief, part-time village manager.

Heppler says there is a lot more to this story, but declined to provide any details, per instructions from his attorney as he looks to take legal action against the City of Galesburg.

Owner of Billy’s Bikes in Galesburg, Billy O'Neal Gillispie said, “If somebody is busy when you only got one or two guys, they are going to be slow aren't they?”

Now Galesburg police is a one-man department.

Heppler took over as interim police chief in Galesburg in 2014 after the city council voted to demote Rick Mau who led the department for nearly 30 years.

Now the city's only patrol officer Mau is acting chief once again, until he retires in a couple months.

Newschannel 3 went to the city’s municipal building Tuesday to talk to Mau and how he plans to manage policing a community of 2,000 people on his own.

Mau was seen seated at a desk when Newschannel 3 entered the building, but the new interim chief quickly slipped out the back.

“I hope they resolve it, I mean I see my tax bill ever year, we're hoping it goes someplace good,” said Gestwicki.

In September, the Galesburg City Council discussed a change of hours for the chief of police and started a committee to look into restructuring the police department. According to the meeting minutes, Heppler was listed as a member of that committee along with Newton and two other council members who voted to fire him.

Aside from Newton, none of the city council members returned our requests for comment Tuesday.

A career law enforcement officer, Heppler has been a firefighter for various townships in the area for 35 years. As of Tuesday, Heppler did not know if he was still a firefighter in Galesburg.

Heppler also served on the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners for 14 years. He stepped down at the end of last year after failed run for Kalamazoo County Sheriff in 2016.

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