SIDNEY — Drugs, drivers and the community’s safety were discussed during Tuesday’s Governor’s Community Traffic Safety Network of Shelby County meeting held at the Sidney Fire Department.
The trafficking of heroin in the county remains a major problem for all aspects of law enforcement, said City Police Chief Will Balling.
“It’s been a little bit lower,” said Balling, “as we combat the problem with traffic stops. A lot of the users are locked up.
“We see it (heroin) traveling up and down the highway (Interstate 75),” said Balling.
Balling went on to say his officers have watched video tapes where the individual who has been stopped tries to hide the drugs.
“The individual may have it in their underwear or in their pants,” said Balling. “Then they’ll place it in a body cavity. That happens frequently.”
Balling said a new rear camera on the police vehicles has captured these actions on video.
“They will put drugs and needles inside them,” said Balling. “The officers and troopers have to be aware of their surroundings and what the individuals are doing.”
Balling said the department is being proactive in the enforcement of drug trafficking.
“We can’t eliminate drug abuse, but we can try to eliminate it coming into Sidney,” said Balling. “It’s flowing up and down the interstate. Most of it is coming up from Dayton. We’re seeing fewer overdoses, the fire department is doing a good job getting them Narcan.”
Joseph Gebhart, commander of the Piqua Post of the Ohio Highway Patrol, said education and treatment to get the people off the drugs is vital in combating the drug problems.
“If they’re locked up, it (drug trafficking) does down a little bit. Crime stats are linked to drug abuse,” said Gebhart.
Balling agreed and said 50 percent of the city’s breaking and enterings are related to heroin usage.
“The biggest growing group of users is females,” said Balling. “Their boyfriends are addicted and they try it. We’re seeing more female carriers of the drugs.
“Heroin affects the middle age men/women who became hooked on pain pills after surgery. The pharmacies have cracked down on pill mills, so they go look for heroin. A Vicodin pill can cost $20 each, a shot of heroin is $5.”
Balling said people coming from good families are getting addicted. It’s a drug addiction, he said, that’s just not affecting the lower class. It’s affecting everyone.
Community awareness and education are two ways to fight the heroin battle. Two billboards have been in the city showing the facts about drug abuse. The only way to make a dent in the heroin problem, said Balling, is to prevent it from spreading.
One avenue of community education, said Gebhart, needs to start in the schools.
“We need community leaders to talk to the kids. We need the student athletes to be ambassadors in their schools,” said Gebhart. “Pills are too accessible at home.”
Balling also reported on the city’s traffic statistics from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2015. He compared the stats to the same period of 2014.
There has been one traffic fatality in the city in 2015. The report hasn’t been finalized yet, said Balling, but alcohol is suspected as being a cause of the accident.
There have been 300 accidents so far this year, down 33 from the 333 accidents in 2014. There have been 51 operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated in 2015, compared to 55 in 2014.
The department has issued 729 citations this year. A year ago they issued 835 citations.
“Last year we increased our presence in the community,” said Balling. “We got the word back from the citizens that they were seeing us out there and that they are slowing down.”
There have been 3,887 traffic stops this year, compared to 4,851 in 2014. So far this year, there have been 260 citations for no operating license or driving under suspension and 50 seat belt violations.
The department is two officers down right now.
“We want to make sure our officers are visible in the community. We have fewer officers and there’s more accountability for their time.”
Balling said he is in the process of hiring a new officer and another new officer is on the way also.
Gebhart said the Piqua Post conducted a Federal Overtime Traffic (FOT) enforcement program from April 1 to July 1. There were 21 OVI arrests of people over the age of 21. There were 116 adult restrain citations and two child restraint citations. There were 573 speed citations and 94 other citations.
There were 753 moving violations and 44 driving under suspension arrests. There were six misdemeanor arrests and seven felony arrests. There were a total of 1,705 traffic stops and many of them were in construction zones.
He said there was one fatality in Shelby County. That happened on Interstate 75 when the vehicle’s tire blew out. The vehicle overturned and the female passenger was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the vehicle.
Gebhart said during Country Concert, there were nine OVI arrests and a couple of drug busts. He said people are staying put at the concert overnight instead of leaving.
The post, he said, currently has nine troopers. Two troopers will be transferring from the Wapakoneta and Dayton posts and a new trooper from the academy will be added to the staff in the near future. This will bring the post up to full staff with 12 troopers.
Fire Chief Brad Jones said during the last six months, the department has responded to 851 incidents, which includes 20 fires and 680 EMS calls. Those calls were all within the city limits.
In the townships in which the city provides assistance, there were 229 calls, which included 195 EMS calls. The department provided mutual aid on 30 calls and 56 percent of those calls were for EMS.
Jones hosted a hands-on extrication training program for those who wanted to participate. Firefighters Mark Barga, Mark Pleiman and Jordan Grogean led the exercise.
Jeff Marshall, Ohio Department of Transportation District 7, reported the weather has caused some delays in construction throughout the area. The bridge at Ohio 29 over Interstate 75 will be done by July 31. The ramps will also be open but will have some restrictions as they are narrow and work will continue around the ramps.
Traffic lights at the ramps on Ohio 29 and I-75 will be installed next year.
Marshall said the I-75 work in Shelby County will be completed by the end of October.
Tony Brown, ODOT, said the split lanes are now being used. Signs are displayed directing people that if they plan to leave the interstate at one of the exits they must stay in the right lane of travel.
Gary Cl0ugh, Sidney’s assistant city manager and public works director, reported several of the city’s projects have also been delayed by the weather. Work is continuing on the West Avenue project and the Port Jefferson Road project. The Port Jefferson Road project should be done by the middle of September.
Fielding Road, said Clough, is on the schedule for repairs next year. The road, he said, has fallen apart after the weather the city had.
“There’s 2 inches of asphalt over the concrete,” said Clough. “The concrete is deteriorating under it.”
The group’s next meeting will be held Oct. 20.