SIDNEY — Being educated and aware is the best defense for a citizen’s fight against crime, according to Sidney’s top law enforcement leader. Understanding the minds and traits of those most likely to offend can also provide a closer look at real problems.
“We can’t live in fear, but we can be prepared,” said Sidney Police Chief William Balling. The 21-year department veteran spoke of local drug activity and social media bullying situations during the third public “Coffee with a Cop” session Thursday night.
More than 20 people attended the open forum held at Sidney First Presbyterian Church. The purpose of the Coffee sessions is to better public communications with police officials, according to Balling, who has also served as a Sidney patrolman, detective, sergeant and lieutenant since joining the force in 1994.
The chief told attendees that such citizen-led meetings help his department set priorities by hearing their concerns. He reported the department fields more than 29,000 calls for service each year and it helps when residents are given a reason as to why things occur.
The discussion quickly led to drug activity and the public perception of why it takes too much time to prosecute offenders.
Mary Roark, of Sidney, asked why it takes a long period of time to arrest and convict drug dealers.
Balling said one of the best information sources are citizen tips. Neighbors tend to call when 10 different cars an hour show up at one house, he said. Although it’s a blatant display of drug activity, Balling said drug transactions are quick and hard to prove forthwith without an eyewitness willing to testify.
Time is also needed to protect confidential informants. Balling said tips and witnesses come forward for a myriad of reason. Officers have encountered people simply trying to make their neighborhoods safe to drug offenders seeking revenge on one another.
Keith Fultz, of Sidney, said informants are a vital part of cutting off large dealers. Fultz is a retired Washington, D.C., policeman and served on an FBI task force.
Balling said if the opportunity for a lesser offender to lead to the arrest of 10 larger sellers, he would use that chance to land the bigger fish.
The chief said once an indictment is issued, it typically takes six months for the court system to conclude the case.
Balling explained that a better understanding is needed regarding the fastest-growing drug problem in Sidney, heroin.
Over the years, other drug use has been easier to track through the offenders’ age, gender, ethnicity, etc. Nowadays, the lines are blurred.
“Now people need heroin just to function. At first, it gets them up here,” Balling said using hand gestures for the crowd. “Then they come down here. But the next time they take it (heroin), it only brings them back up to here,” raising his hand not as far as before. Soon, the drug only allows them to basically function, thus increasing the need.
Balling said officers are finding addictive use in all ages, male and female, and showing no socioeconomic boundaries. The reasons also vary.
For many, its stems to past pain medication use, he said. Those who have suffered injury or chronic pain may be reliant on opioids such as oxycodone. With the medical crackdown on prescribing these drugs, those in need are turning elsewhere.
The largest-growing segment for heroin use is young females. Balling said most are being led there by boyfriends in hopes of a better relationship acceptance.
“When we make these arrests, these are someone’s son or daughter, someone’s family member. We have to remember that,” Balling said.
Self-esteem issues also cause usage problems. From the point of someone having a Superman-type complex of “nothing can hurt me,” to being in a deep depression with little hope, Balling stated.
The Rev. Diana Circelli of Sidney First Presbyterian Church asked about where drug offenders serve their time and how this helps their rehabilitation.
The chief told of officers and paramedics encountering someone who had eight drug overdoses, but died the ninth time. They are finding it takes a year for someone to truly “get clean” from heroin use. Drug-treatment results nationwide are showing only 10 percent of those entering treatment complete it successfully.
Balling said since most people return to the same environment they came from, their activities tend to repeat.
The chief wishes the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program would be reinstituted at Sidney City Schools. Other academic needs left no room for the program, he said, but educating younger children about drug use is the key.
Balling said school-age children also face cyberbullying. It has created a new level of abuse that the chief feels could be solved through a unified effort.
“Parents need to be parents again,” Balling said. “They need to get back involved with their kids every day.”
He said electronic “babysitters” have taken human interaction off the table in many cases. With the world literally at their fingertips through social media, children can seriously impact someone’s life without leaving their couch.
“Parents, if your child has a computer in their room, you’re asking for trouble,” Balling said. “Know what they are looking at. Not as a form of control, but for their own protection.”
Ball reports no future Coffee dates have been set, but he is willing to meet with groups to continue an open line of communication with the department.
The writer is a contributor to the Sidney Daily News.