LISBON - The number of drug-crime indictments nearly doubled last year, which Columbiana County Prosecutor Robert Herron attributed to the additional officers assigned to the county Drug Task Force.
"The facts demonstrate your funding of the DTF's efforts have been producing results. It's clearly paying off," Herron told county commissioners this week.
Herron met with commissioners to encourage them to continue a program they began last year to assist police departments by helping pay the salaries of any officers they assign to the DTF.
The DTF is staffed with officers assigned from other police departments, with participating communities continuing to pay their salaries and benefits. Herron said during the first six months of the year there were only three officers assigned to the DTF - the county sheriff's office, Salem and Lisbon. After commissioners offered to begin helping pay the costs, Wellsville, East Palestine, Leetonia and Columbiana assigned officers to the DTF.
Herron said the difference made by the additional officers is apparent. Whereas, there were 65 drug-related indictments in 2012, the total last year was 121. Of the 121 drug-related indictments, 68 were the direct result of DTF investigations, compared to 31 in 2012.
"So the DTF has more felony drug indictments than all of the other law enforcement agencies in the county (combined)," Herron noted, adding that most of the drug charges from individual law enforcement agencies were the result of traffic stops and not investigations.
"The DTF is the only law enforcement agency in the county capable of doing that (conducting extensive investigations)," he said.
Herron said he hopes the mayors, town councils and police chiefs are "taking note" of the increased indictments resulting from a revitalized DTF and continue their commitment.
He also said communities such East Liverpool, Salineville and Perry Township, which have "significant" drug problems, should consider joining the DTF and need to be encouraged to do so.
East Liverpool has a strong working relationship with the Mahoning County office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Herron said while the DEA assistance is important and appreciated, its focus is on major Youngstown dealers operating in the county, while the DTF focuses on the larger number of local dealers.
"In terms of having a focused, substantial investigation into people dealing drugs in this county, the DTF is the only law enforcement agency capable of doing that," he said.
Salem also works with the DEA, but it has an officer on the DTF.
Herron estimated 85 percent of all crimes are drug related, whether it be homicides, assaults, burglaries, thefts and other property crimes. "If you want to talk about a decline in your communities, I think you start with drugs. It's a quality of life issue," he said.
A well-staffed DTF is needed more than ever as methamphetamines, commonly known as meth, becomes a bigger problem in the county. Herron pointed out that in 2013 they broke up two meth labs in New Waterford and five in Salem.
"We've been fortunate that it has taken so long to get here, but it has arrived," he said of the meth problem.
Commissioners followed Herron's lead and voted to continue helping subsidize DTF participation in 2014. Under their proposal, police departments who assign an officer full-time to the DTF will receive $20,000, with those assigning an officer part-time getting $10,000.
Salem, Wellsville and Lisbon currently have officers assigned full-time, while East Palestine, Leetonia and Columbiana have officers assigned part-time. The $90,000 to pay these departments comes from the county's share of state casino tax revenue.
The sheriff's office has two deputies on the DTF, but their salaries and benefits are paid out of the sheriff's budget.
Commissioner Mike Halleck thanked Herron, who started the DTF about 20 years ago and serves as chairman of the advisory committee. "After all, you're the one who started this," he told Herron.
Halleck said the citizenry appreciates their increased efforts to go after drug dealers. "I hear from the public they're glad were doing this," he said.
Commissioner Jim Hoppel said they will continue subsidizing DTF participation as long as their is the additional funding. "If we continue this support, we'll win this battle," he said.