MOUNT VERNON — Hard times are a double-edged sword for the front line of law enforcement. As the weak economy drives governmental budgets down, it drives social tensions in the opposite direction, resulting in expanded challenges for first responders.
“Job loss, employment and financial stress, coupled with troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq are making increased demands for mental health and substance abuse services,” said Knox County Sheriff David Barber. “The majority of the time, law enforcement officers are the first responders to these situations.”
To maintain coverage over the county’s 525 square miles, Barber said the sheriff’s office has had to go beyond the vigorous cost-cutting ideas of recent years, including operational changes, restructuring processes, postponing equipment replacement and implementing energy-saving policies, to more drastic measures, such as eliminating all overtime, taking furlough days and reassigning the DARE anti-drug education officers to the patrol division.
These patrols are taking place over three designated areas in the county — northeast, northwest and south. A minimum of one deputy is assigned to each area per shift. Depending on village schedules, there are times when as few as three cars may be patrolling, although it is usually more.
According to Barber, the patrol division consists of one lieutenant, three sergeants (one per shift) and 18 deputies. Three of those deputies are contracted to the village of Centerburg; two are contracted to the village of Gambier. Villages not covered full time get backup from the general patrols, as well.
“We’re fortunate in Knox County to have the amount of coverage we do, considering the budget situation,” Barber said, contrasting Knox with other counties such as Morrow, where budget woes have curtailed most patrolling.
The minimum levels in place in Knox County are for officer safety, response time and safety of the citizens, Barber said, but are less than ideal considering the size of the county.
Barber cited the sheriff’s office’s excellent working relationships with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Danville, Fredericktown and Mount Vernon police departments, which can all provide backup in emergency situations, just as the county force offers local and state officers support.