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Small Missouri town's police force may return after judge's ruling

Posted at 9:33 PM, Aug 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-20 22:33:38-04

WOOD HEIGHTS, Mo. — More than a year after its Board of Aldermen voted to disband the police force, the city of Wood Heights, Missouri, could see police officers return to its streets after a judged voided the decision earlier this month.

Wood Heights city leaders got rid of the police department in the spring of 2018 as a result of budget constraints.

Many residents in Wood Heights, a 45-minute drive northeast from Kansas City, is home to around 700 residents, who remain concerned with all law enforcement duties now being handled by the Ray County Sheriff’s Office.

“We’ve already had some citizens complain about people at night around outside their homes,” Darren Hart, who has lived in Wood Heights since 2012, said. “Would you like living in a town that doesn’t have any police protection?”

After the decision made by local leaders, Hart led an effort by neighbors to challenge the disbandment.

As part of a lawsuit filed against the town, a judge recently ruled that the Board of Aldermen’s decision should be voided since the vote was taken behind closed doors without public notice.

“I felt it was my obligation as citizen to stand up,” Hart said. “Not only are we receiving bad publicity, but we’re also telling the crooks we ain’t got no police.”

Despite the judge’s ruling, it is unclear if the Wood Heights Police Department will return.

Mayor Frank Davitt, who took office in April, told 41 Action News he hoped to find a solution for residents.

“It is a very important issue; it’s the top issue,” he said. “They (residents) want the police department back, even if it’s only part time.”

Finances still are tight in Wood Heights, but Davitt said he hoped to find a way to fund officers.

“I’ll see if we can trim the budget or look for federal grants,” he said.

The Board of Aldermen plans to vote again on whether to disband the police department at its Sept. 16 meeting.