LIMA — On the wish lists of the police chief and sheriff is more money to put more officers on the streets.
The reality is every public agency wants more money, but taxpayers do not want to pay higher taxes and police agencies have to make do with what they have.
“I would double up if we had the manpower,” said Allen County Sheriff Sam Crish when asked about officer safety and serving the public.
Many calls take two officers, and it’s a good practice to back up the primary officer. If a deputy is not on a call, he’s heading to wherever another deputy is, even if that’s stopping someone for speeding, to provide backup, Crish said.
Lima Police Chief Kevin Martin said his officers do the same thing. Martin receives calls from people on traffic stops when one, two or three more police cars show up for a simple stop. It may seem alarming to the citizen but officers do not know who they stop until the stop is over. It could be a person who just committed a violent crime, he said.
Officers in both agencies have been covering each other even before the recent assassination of officers in Dallas, Baton Rouge and other cities in the United States, Martin and Crish said.
It’s a good practice especially when both agencies cannot afford two officers in one car.
“We barely have enough to patrol,” Crish said.
Both men fear the atmosphere around the country that has officers on edge could affect their ability to hire people to wear the badge. Crish already has heard some officers with enough time to retire thinking about doing so.
“Some say I got my time, I’m out of here,” Crish said. “It’s tough to get new people with what’s going on.”
He’s also heard younger people considering a career in law enforcement changed their mind.
“Kids are like, ‘Am I going to put myself in that position for making nothing,” he said referring to the pay.
Neither Crish nor Martin, who sat down with The Lima News editorial board this past week to talk about various topics, have one solution that can change the way some people feel about police in the country. But what they said needs to happen, however it can be achieved, is to get rid of the divide that exists.
“It’s us and them. Somehow that has to go away,” Crish said. “It takes both sides to make it happen.”
Crish said officers make mistakes but the vast majority of officers are good people just trying to do their jobs and protect the public. When a mistake happens at his agency, he addresses it and moves on.
“We certainly make mistakes. We are not perfect. It’s going to happen,” he said.
At the Lima Police Department, even before the most recent backlash by some groups against police, Martin said his department has launched several programs to try to improve relations in the community.
One of the most successful is putting officers in the schools as resource officers. Children interact daily with officers and gain a new perspective for them Martin hopes will carry through their teenage years and into adulthood.
Lima Police also have established three community police offices in three high-call areas of the city. The move followed the demand of citizens who liked the concept established in the 1990s that vanished due to budget cuts. Having community officers gives citizens someone they know and trust to go to with problems.
“We have to be in our community in other positive ways engaging people in a positive way,” Martin said.
The community policing concept goes back to the old beat cop method of yesteryear where officers stopped to talk to citizens while on foot patrol, Martin said.
Crish said his deputies are doing the same thing, and he’s trying to take the lead. Crish estimated he spends 70 percent of his time dealing with the public and on patrol talking with people trying to establish good relationships with citizens.
Lima police also have plans to meet some of the demands of groups critical of police. While critics want body cameras to hold officers accountable, Martin said he expects the cameras will be a good tool for police and most of the time back an officer’s account of what actually happened.
“We are getting body cameras. We are still in the process of where does the money come from,” the chief said.
Another topic on the minds of both men is the increase of juvenile crime. Teenagers in Lima have been committing more violent crimes this year, including murder. Martin said his agency is trying to stop it.
“That is a troubling factor,” he said.
The chief also said there are gangs in Lima and some members commit crimes together such as burglaries and robberies.
Both men said drugs remain a big problem in the community and there needs to be severe punishment for the sellers. The addicts who are arrested for a crime such as drug possession should get help and there are many programs in the community for them.
Both men were critical of President Barack Obama for commuting stiff sentences for drug dealers recently, with 214 federal inmates whose sentences were cut short. Almost all of the 214 were drug crimes.
“Illegal drugs create a lot of victims in this country,” Martin said.
Reach Greg Sowinski at 567-242-0464 or on Twitter @Lima_Sowinski.