Ohio Sheriff wants more deputies, cars to keep up with uptick in crime
By DeWitt, David
The Athens News
ATHENS, Ohio — A bad economy leads to an increase in crime, Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly told the three Athens County commissioners on Tuesday. Because of this increase, Kelly has requested permission to seek a federal grant that would provide funds to hire up to three new deputies, as well as the go-ahead to purchase five new cruisers.
The commissioners voted to allow Kelly to begin the grant application process, and voted to give him permission to go forward with the purchase of two new squad cars.
"Right now, my office is on pace for over 200 felony investigations in 2009," Kelly told the commissioners. "That's a 20 percent increase over last year. We're averaging, right now, one felony every three days since I took office. Recently, in one week's time, my office investigated two homicides, a drive-by shooting, one rape, numerous drug transactions, and we executed five search warrants."
Kelly pointed out that his office had the homicide suspects in custody within an eight-hour period.
"My investigators assigned to Children Services have filed more felony charges in the first two months of this year than many agencies are going to file in a whole year," Kelly said. "They include rape of minor children - a 4-year-old - exploitation and the abuse of children."
Kelly said there is no question that the county is experiencing tough economic times. "With those tough economic times comes a rise in crime, and we're seeing it," he said. "I believe Athens County is starting to experience the first fruits of a situation that's now escalated to the point where we have more burglaries, we're seeing gang violence - we have Somali gangs here in Athens County, and they're deep bred. They're not somebody who just started. They've been here. They've got a network here in Athens County."
Kelly said that Mexican gangs are doing the same thing, as well as a gang called MS-13, which Kelly described as "one of the most violent gangs in the United States."
The MS-13 name is short for the Mara Salvatrucha gang, which originated in Los Angeles primarily among refugees from El Salvador, and spread out from there.
"They're down as far as Logan, and they're heading this way," Kelly said. "Well, we're going to put a barrier up. They're not any more welcome than the Somali groups." Kelly also said there is a drug epidemic in the county.
Kelly pointed out that his agency receives less funding than other area police departments. He said the Athens Police Department has a $3.2 million budget, Ohio University Police has a $2.6 million budget, and he has a $1.8 million budget.
Commissioner Lenny Eliason pointed out that those departments also have additional expenses not incurred by the Sheriff's Office, such as dispatch services among other things. Eliason said that when this is taken into account, Kelly's office receives more than the other two.
To help combat the recent rash of crime, Kelly requested the commissioners allow him to pursue funds that have no local match through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS office, which is being funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The grant would provide 100 percent funding for three entry-level deputies to be hired by the Sheriff's Office for three years, at which point the county must assume the cost of the officers' salaries and is not allowed to eliminate the positions for a period of time following the first three years. Eliason expressed concern that this could lead to the laying off of officers with more seniority.
The commissioners voted to allow Kelly to begin the application process, but said they would be reviewing the grant application over the next week and might ask him to pull back if they find anything objectionable.
Kelly also requested permission to purchase five Ford Crown Victoria police cruisers from Don Wood Automotive. The commissioners voted to allow him to go ahead with the purchase of two of these, for the price of $26,589 each.
Additional cruisers could be requested, Kelly said, through the COPS grant. He pointed out, however, that this might affect the chances of seeing the grant approved.
Eliason said that the county had not budgeted for additional cruisers and would need time to make sure they could shore up their balance sheets.
"We want to work with you and will work with you, but you can't come in here and blow up everything we planned for this year," Eliason told Kelly. "We are tasked with funding the entire county, not just your budget."
Kelly said that his requests were a response to needs by the department to protect the county and ensure the safety of his deputies.
"I will never come to you and ask for stuff I don't need," he said.
Copyright 2009 Athens News