2007-04-14 / News

Sheriff says police district is valuable but pricey

By Scott Rawdon

NEW LEXINGTON - Perry County Sheriff William Barker said that a proposed Thorn Township police district would effectively shorten response times in Northern Perry County, but it wouldn't be cheap. He responded to questions and comments about the proposed district and the Perry County Sheriff's Department raised by Thornville residents, council members, and Perry County commissioners during the Thornville Village Council's March 28 meeting.

"I would like to think that response time would be shortened and that the district would have more time to devote to investigating crimes within the district," he said. He'd like to think that all law enforcement administrators would like a quick response time, adequate manpower to handle situations, the ability to investigate crime properly, a high rate of crime solving, and to be community oriented. However, "This all costs money and needs adequate funding," said Barker. "The reality of this is, who will bear the cost." Will it be the property owners who would pay more in taxes or would it be funded through a grant, which can eventually be depleated, causing personnel layoffs? "I'm not sure that an increase in sales tax would generate enough money to fund an adequate police force," he said, adding that until legislators enact laws to establish minimum levels of staffing for law enforcement based upon population and provide additional funding to county departments, there will be no significantincrease in manpower unless supported by an increase in the local tax base.

Perry County Commissioner Thad Cooperrider, present at the March 28 council meeting, said Thornville and Thorn Township residents pay the most taxes in the county, yet are the last to be served by the sheriff's department.

"To increase more coverage anywhere in Perry County means more deputies, which requires more appropriation of funds," said Barker.

Presently, Barker's department has seven full time deputies who are paid through the county's general fund, which covers 24 hour service seven days a week and one part time deputy covering two days a week for the sheriff's office, he said. Three other deputies are covered by grants--one is funded through children's services for abuse investigations, another is funded by the Solid Waste District for litter prevention, and the Perry County Engineers Officeemploys a part time deputy two days a week to perform safety duties for county crews working along county roads.

Barker's department has two full time dispatchers, three part time dispatchers, a dispatcher on worker's compensation, and a civil and an administrative clerk, all of whom are paid by the general fund. He said his 18 employee staff (plus Barker) cover the department's respnsibilities to all three courts, prisoner handling- -including transportation to and from regional jail and penal institutions--and law enforcement duties in all of Perry County to include those villages without 24 hour coverage.

Barker said New Lexington has 24 hour, seven day per week police coverage and Crooksville has an officeron duty most all shifts. "So, with the present staffing levels, how can I increase coverage in any area of our county?" he asked. "We are trying our best with the resourses provided."

D u r i n g t h e M a r c h 2 8 Thornville Village Council meeting, council member Mary Renner (who replaced former council member Jim Royer) said she called 911 a couple of times and only reached an answering machine. She said she once called the sheriff's department to report a lost child, only to be told the department didn't have sufficientgasoline to send a cruiser.

Barker said his department has an aswering machine for the seven digit phone number--(740) 342- 4123. "It has canned messages to direct the caller," he said. "All 911 calls are answered by a dispatcher who answers emegency calls. No recording is used on 911 calls."

Barker said he'd like to know more about the report of the missing child. "I, too, would be very upset to receive such a response from a dispatcher," he said. The statute of the law clearly states what action is to be taken when a child is reported missing. "It is certainly not to tell a caller we haven't enough gas to send a cruiser to Thornville," said Barker.

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