SIDNEY — They came armed with coffee cups and sack lunches. Their questions flowed as learned more about the Sidney Police Department and the Ohio Highway Patrol.
A small but inquisitive group of citizens met with Sidney Police Chief Will Balling and Lt. Joseph Gebhart, OHP Piqua Post commander, Wednesday at the Sidney First Presbyterian Church. The purpose of the event was to allow local citizens voice their concerns about law enforcement but also provide feedback to Balling and Gebhart about positives and negatives they see in the community.
“I think I have a good handle on what’s going on in Sidney,” Balling told the group. “But what I know is only 50 percent of what’s going on.”
And that’s where the citizens of Sidney come in, he said.
“It’s an important way of finding out from you guys what’s going on,” said Balling. “I want to see what we can learn from each other.”
Balling has been with the Sidney Police Department for 20 years, starting as a road officer and working his way up to bike officer, evidence officer, sergeant, lieutenant, detective and finally chief of police.
“All of our officers need to be active in the community,” he said.
There are 35 officers in the department, with another one slated to be hired in two weeks. The department has a full service dispatch operation for the city, which includes eight full-time and two part-time employees.
Gebhart said he has served 15 different OHP sites during his career. The Piqua Post has 10 troopers which serve three counties — Darke, Miami and Shelby.
Questions ranged from the growing heroin problem in the county and Issue 3.
Heroin and other drug use, said Balling, is the No. 1 challenge facing the department.
“There’s a three-part process for dealing with the drug problem,” said Balling.
First, he said, is educating the public. Family members and friends need to know the signs of drug behavior.
Second is prevention and for that all law enforcement agencies work closely together to prevent drugs from entering the county.
“We work with the OHP to prevent the drugs from coming into town,” said Balling. “We work on the interstate and work cooperatively to eradicate the drugs. We share information back and forth.”
The third part of the process is enforcement.
“We can either have our heads in the sand about drug use in the county or we can actively enforce the laws,” said Balling. “We choose to do it (enforce it).
“We want to have less overdoses,” he said. “We want to have less people hooked on it. We take this very seriously.”
Balling said a better solution is needed to rehabilitate drug abusers.
“Heroin is getting to more people,” said Balling. “If they get into a treatment program, then they can’t come back to the same place where they were before because the drugs will still be there.”
Jamie Westfall, of Wilson Health, said there is a trial program where a person can receive an injection which blocks the effect of heroin for 30 days.
“We’re working with the courts with the offenders,” said Westfall. “They (offender) has a choice — jail time or the Vivitrol program. We’re had a couple participate so far.”
Vivitrol, he said, blocks the addictive effect of heroin. The first injection comes after the offender has been in jail for 8 to 10 days and they are past the drug withdrawal phase. The person is taken from jail to the counseling center and given the shot. Every 30 days they have to go back for another shot and must participate in the program for six months. There’s intensive outpatient counselling involved with the program. Each injection costs $1,200.
“We have to find a way to pay for this,” said Westfall. “It’s a group effort that includes the probation officer and counselling office.”
Balling said each person has a baseline from which they operate on a daily basis. A person has emotional swings which takes them up or down from their baseline.
“The first time a person does heroin, they feel great,” said Balling.
But the more they use, their highs become less high and their lows become lower.
“So now the person is taking more just to feel normal,” he said. “They use it at 9 or 10 in the morning to get going. They are traveling down to Dayton and coming back to Sidney with heroin.”
“Twenty-six years ago when I started with the Patrol, ” said Gebhart, “drunk driving at nighttime was the problem. Today we get calls all day about impaired drivers. Drugs are harder to detect. I can smell the alcohol. With drugs, you have to be careful when you are evaluating the situation.”
Troopers, he said, are trained in drug recognition.
“This is a problem 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Gebhart.
Balling said there is no age limit to heroin use. The cost of the drug is low, which makes it readily available.
He was questioned about where the drugs are being sold and he said out of people’s homes along with other places.
“One of the best indicators that there’s drugs being sold from a house is the amount of traffic coming to the house,” said Balling. “People are not on the corner selling anymore.”
A resident from Jackson Towers questioned why an officer didn’t use the lock box to get into the tower when a squad run was made there and why the officers use narcam in drug overdoses and doesn’t that contributed to more drug abuse.
“We don’t have keys to the lock boxes around the city,” said Balling. “The fire department has keys. Some people don’t want the police to have access to the lock box. We have to rely on a resident to let us in if we arrive on the scene before the fire department.”
Narcam, he said, is administered by rescue squad personnel.
“They do a great job on getting to the scene fast,” said Balling. “Is it ethically right to keep bringing the person back to life? My own personal view — and this is not the Sidney Police Department view — is that I’m not a judge or jury. I’m not God. My job is to protect and serve.”
Balling said within the next year, the officers in the department will have body cameras. It is in the budget for next year.
Both spoke about Issue 3 which will be on the November ballot.
“I’ve been asked about the challenges we might have with impaired driving and detection of it” said Gebhart. “This is already an issue for us. Either the person is impaired or not. We’re prepared to remove the driver off the road. We have a marijuana test like the one for drunk driving.”
He said the ballot language for the issue is confusing.
Balling said his concerns deal with the side effects of the drug.
“I hear people say they want it approved for medical marijuana. In my opinion, if we need it for medical marijuana, let it got through the legislature and then through the pharmacies,” said Balling.
“This helps everybody and the cartel who will control it,” Balling said. “This needs to be in a different format to help the medical community.
“I want to say we are not bogged down by marijuana arrests,” said Gebhart of the commercial which touts freeing up law enforcement for other crimes. “That’s hogwash when they say it will free us up to do real law enforcement.”
Westfall said he has worked in states that used marijuana for medical uses but it wasn’t smokeable. A derivative of marijuana was used in the medical form.
The event was organized by Sarah Steenrod, a member of Sidney First Presbyterian Church. The church wanted to get more involved with events and programs in the community and saw this as one way to accomplish their mission.
Note: Coffee With a Cop will continue in Friday’s newspaper.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.