Rain is falling when Alexandria Police Chief Dan Bunting stops his first vehicle of the night on March 22. The driver was going more than 20 miles over the speed limit on her way out of the village. 

Like most locals, she knows Chief Bunting. He’s been the only police officer in town since 2018, and has been in Alexandria in various leadership roles for more than a decade. 

Finally, in 2024, he’s working to rebuild a department that has been defunct since 2012. 

Bunting let the driver off with a warning, taking his time to carefully document the stop in his paper logs. Alexandria’s reputation has long been that of a speed trap on Ohio State Route 37. Bunting is working hard to ensure that his new department earns the respect and trust of Licking County. 

Alexandria is a small village, with a population of around 500 and a total land area of 0.2 square miles. There’s one stop light in the heart of the village, and most streets have a speed limit of 25 miles per hour. 

When the village police department dissolved in 2012, Bunting had been serving as the marshal — the village’s equivalent of a police chief — for a year. He transitioned into a role on the village council until 2017, and in 2018, Bunting was brought back on as marshal by then-Mayor Jim Jasper in a “$1 a year auxiliary capacity,” Jasper told the Newark Advocate.

In 2023, the village council set aside $100,000 to build the department from the ground up. As marshal, Bunting was tasked with appropriating the funds – not to mention grant writing, training new officers, updating the department’s policies and procedures, and law enforcement. His priority was to make sure that the foundation for a successful department was set, starting by gathering the proper equipment. 

“I made the decision as the chief to say, ‘Okay, let’s get the equipment before we get the officers,’” Bunting said. “I don’t want morale to get low because they don’t have the equipment.”

The old Crown Victoria cruisers weren’t going to cut in a modern police department. Bunting decided to donate his own vehicle to get the department off the ground. Nearby Kirkersville’s police donated a cruiser too. Today, the department has three SUVs and an old Crown Vic parked by the wastewater plant in town. 

Stowed between the front two seats of the cruiser is a military-type rifle. It has a long silencer and flash-suppressor on the end. In addition to rifles, Bunting used funding to secure shotguns, handguns and less-than-lethal weapons. These purchases were no small investment, but being prepared for anything is part of Bunting’s job.

“I try to have all the tools,” Bunting said. “You never know what’s going to happen.” 

Thanks to donations from the Newark Division of Police, there are tablets in the cruisers that streamline and digitize the work. They will operate off of a secured WiFi network that is specific to each car, to be installed soon by Newark Police’s upfitter. 

“We have all the equipment in place,” Bunting said. “Now, in 2024, it’s about getting the officers.” 

Currently, he has four part-time officers. The limited hours make it hard to find officers who are willing to work them, but Bunting has been able to leverage his connections as a local to bring on some retired police chiefs from the area. Another officer is only 5 years out of the academy, but works full-time for Amazon and picks up shifts in Alexandria a couple times a month. 

“We don’t have a bunch of calls and a bunch of activity… but we have other kinds of events like Halloween, Fun Days, and parades,” Bunting said. Much of the job involves traffic stops. The center of town sees nonstop traffic, from residents in the vehicles to concrete trucks and 18 wheelers on their way down State Route 37. Other aspects of the job are more community-oriented: Officers will direct parade traffic or attend events so that the people in town will get to know their faces. 

“The officers that we have are more than just robots in a car giving everybody a hard time,” Bunting said. 

Bunting hasn’t heard any complaints from Alexandria residents yet, but he knows that the transition back to full-time law enforcement will take a serious adjustment. 

“Nobody wants a police department until you need a police department,” Bunting said. “It takes something to happen, but we want to be proactive instead of reactive.” 

In between calls, Bunting makes his way around the village’s 200-and-some homes. He pays extra attention to the houses with older residents that he knows could use the help. 

“Enforcement’s just one aspect of the job,” Bunting said. “I’m shoveling snow for seniors. I’m advocating for a handicap spot that we just put in by the post office.” 

One of the department’s first projects in 2024 has been replacing old speed limit signs along Granville Street. Chief Bunting said it was hard for him to enforce speed limits when the signs were nearly impossible to see. The new signs are reflective, making them visible even at night. They stand along Granville Street up to a painted white line that marks the end of the village. Here, the speed limit jumps from 25 to 55 miles per hour. Bunting will sit near here with a radar gun to ensure that people exit the village safely. 

It’s here that Bunting is sitting on March 22 when he clocks a car going nearly 50mph. 

“My magic number is 15,” he said, referring to the number of miles over the speed limit someone must be going to get Bunting to flip on his lights and make a stop. It’s a little higher of a threshold than normal, but Bunting knows that as a new department, people just aren’t used to seeing police out. 

On an earlier round, Bunting gets a call on his cellphone from someone whose name starts with “Alex.” He picks up the phone, knowing it must be a resident from the contact label. The man on the phone says that he saw Bunting creep past him in his parked pickup, and wanted to make sure that the Chief knew he wasn’t up to anything funny. The two chuckle at his paranoia before catching up briefly. Bunting has many of the residents’ contacts in his phone, each of them labeled with “Alex” before their first name. This way, he knows to pick up while he’s on patrol. 

“That’s what I like about policing in the town I live in,” Bunting said. 

He would have never been able to build the relationships he has here if he was working at a larger department. He’s excited to be able to pass on his knowledge of small-town policing to the next generation of law enforcement officers. 

There are some things you can learn only by doing the job, Bunting explained, like knowing to carry a dog leash in the back of the police cruiser in case he comes across a stray. 

“That’s stuff that you don’t think about, but it’s something that I’ve just dealt with over the years,” he said. The department will only be able to increase its capacity to handle all kinds of situations as it grows. 

Full-time officers won’t be possible until Bunting secures more funding for the department. 

“I work with what council gives me, so I’m only able to give officers so much,” Bunting said. 

The Village of Alexandria receives tax dollars from the Regional Income Tax Authority, or RITA.

“That’s the money we get to spend on village things,” said Alexandria’s Village Council Safety Committee Chair Cari Meng. Her committee is in charge of deciding how much funding Bunting will receive. 

“Chief Bunting comes in and says, ‘Here’s what I need to run a functioning police department this year,’ and our work is to balance that out,” she said. Using an analysis of the busiest times in the village, Bunting made a case for appropriations to support officer coverage during this time. 

“Ideally, I think we would love 24/7-365 police coverage,” Meng said. “Financially, we’re not there yet.” 

In 2024, Bunting’s budget was cut from $100,000 to $78,000. Part of his work is to find funding to supplement this amount. 

On March 19 this year, St. Albans Township rejected a tax levy that would have set aside an additional $1.4 million for fire protection and emergency medical services. Bunting knows that fire usually comes before police, and asking Alexandria’s residents for more money to support a full police department wouldn’t be a smart strategy right now.  

“It’s really important that a police department not pay for itself with tickets – that’s how you become a speed trap,” Meng said. Like Bunting, she’s conscious of the fact that this department’s continued success will be reliant on their ability to gain the community’s trust. 

While they are getting back on their feet, Bunting is focusing on traffic stops that result in warnings or safety education. For years, locals have become accustomed to the lack of police presence. Bunting would move his cruiser around the village, where it sat empty to give the appearance of surveillance. 

Now, those cruisers have officers in them. 

“We went from a one-guy police officer town to now we’re becoming a professional, accredited type agency where we’ll have more officers and more vehicles,” Bunting said.

It’s exciting and daunting at the same time. 

As the Intel development brings more traffic to the area and St. Albans Township considers merging with Alexandria, Bunting knows that the demand for the department will only increase. In the near future, he’s hoping to get the equipment to fully digitize traffic citations in the cruisers, portable weights and scales to enforce weight limits on the commercial trucks that trundle through town, and, of course, more officers. 

“We’re trying to plan out for the future not really knowing what the future is going to be,” Bunting said.

This story was updated at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, April 26 to correct the amount a proposed fire levy was slated to raise. The Reporting Project regrets the error.

Torria Catrone writes for TheReportingProject.org, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is funded by the Mellon Foundation and donations from readers.