East Palestine returns to drug task force

EAST PALESTINE – A village officer will be joining the county drug task force (DTF).

Council last week accepted the $10,000 being offered by county commissioners to cities and villages as part of their effort to boost participation in the force.

The money will pay the wages and benefits of the participating officer on a part-time basis and is available as a result of tax payments commissioners received from Ohio’s first casinos.

Commissioners are also offering $20,000 annually to departments willing to assign an officer to the force on a full-time basis.

Police Chief Kevin Dickey said the village had an officer on the force off an on over the years since its inception 21 years ago. In 2008, the village decided to discontinue participation as a result of severe budgeting difficulties.

Dickey said the village wouldn’t be able to participate if money had not been made available by commissioners.

“With the economy the way it’s been the last several years-we are starting to see some improvement now-but budgeting and funding is still not where it needs to be, we are still on the rebound from that,” he said.

Little more than $200,000 was cut from the village’s budget this year, with about half of the cuts made to the general fund, which is where the administration, finance, police and fire departments get their revenue.

The department is the largest chunk of the general fund and typically operates on a budget of $800,000 to $843,000.

Dickey said a task force officer hasn’t been chosen yet. The first step is to advertise the position as open to all full- and part-time officers at the local department. Applicants will then be interviewed by Dickey who will choose one person to be considered by the DTF board of control.

Finance Director Traci Thompson said the length of the village’s participation in the program depends on the chosen officers’ existing salary.

Dickey said he hopes an officer will be selected within the next few weeks.

“It’s going to be a great thing … It will be a great thing for East Palestine and especially for the county because it’s mutually beneficial for each,” he said of the DTF participation.

A benefit of having an officer on the force is that the local department will have things available for covert operations that wouldn’t otherwise be available due to a lack of money, he explained.

“They do have the funding for undercover drug purchases, specialized equipment and manpower,” he said.

Over the last year the department has ramped up drug-related arrests, and participation on the task force will increase those efforts significantly, he added.

Councilman Don Elzer said 2012 drug arrests were up 560 percent compared to 2011.

“What we’ve changed over the last (several) months has been incredible,” he said.

Dickey said the increase in arrests is a result of “proactive” efforts, which are more officers on the street and more drug interdictions.

There were 33 on-site arrests last year compared to five in 2011, he noted.

“This is just sheer proactive police work,” he said.

Being proactive is one way to fight drug activity. The other is covert operations, and that’s where the task force comes in, he said.

“I think the more people you get involved with the drug task force will be good for all communities as a whole. I’d encourage all municipalities to take advantage,” he said.