ST. CLAIRSVILLE - As part of County Government Month, Belmont County Sheriff David Lucas visited the commissioners Tuesday to deliver a presentation regarding his office and its duties.
Lucas began with a brief overview of the responsibilities of his office, including criminal investigation, drug enforcement, operating the county jail and transporting inmates, enforcement of concealed and carry laws, the sex offender registry, working with citizens on initiatives such as a neighborhood watch, and providing school resource officers and initiatives such as the DARE program.
Overpopulation has become an issue for most county jails in the state, since changes in state sentencing guidelines has shifted much of the prison population to the counties. In addition, there is more criminal activity and Lucas said his administration has taken a proactive approach with arrests.
Lucas reported recent local changes including upgrades to the jail from a 76 bed facility to a 144 bed facility. He reported an eight percent increase at the jail in 2012 compared to 2011. The first three months of 2013 saw an increase of 16 percent compared to the first three months of 2012. This time last year saw 632 bookings. So far this year there are 752 bookings in.
The average daily population in 2012 had increased 15 percent. In 2011 the average daily population was 84.7. In 2012 the population was 100.
The meals have increased 13 percent in March from February, 35 percent more than this time last year. However, meal costs are down seven percent. In 2012 there were 109,492 meals served. Three weeks ago, 141 out of 144 beds in the jail were filled.
Deputies patrol 541 square miles.
"We're one of the top, biggest in the state of Ohio," Lucas said, adding that a full day calls for four officers on the road. Last year's gas budget was $154,000.
He also discussed the overlap of various levels of law enforcement. While community police departments are constables handle issues within their jurisdiction, communities without a law enforcement department fall under the sheriff's office.
"We're working hard, working with the community, working with the commission, working with the local townships and police department. My biggest thing is communication," he said.
They have also taken on unfunded state mandates, such as sex offender registration and concealed carry regulation, which called for local overseers and must be paid for by the county. He pointed out that despite the expansion of the jail facility, there office did not increase its manpower.
"We're keeping the cost down as best we can," he said. "When things go up in our department, the costs go up."
He added that the federal government has estimated that for every 1,000 people in the population, there should be one active police officer. However, the sheriff's office has 36 deputies on four shifts.
"The sheriff's department is one department that does a whole lot with a whole lot less," said Commissioner Matt Coffland.
"Justice and law enforcement are a large portion of government," said Commissioner Ginny Favede.
In response to questions from guests, Lucas said the most prevalent crimes in the county are drug related or drug motivated, such as property crimes and home invasions. Assaults and sex related cases also keep law enforcement occupied.
He confirmed that Ohio maintains the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws. Occupants are legally permitted to open fire on an intruder in cases where they feel they or others are in immediate physical danger.
Lucas said a sub-station will open at the Ohio Valley Mall in the near future.
More information concerning Ohio's sheriff's office may be found at buckeyesheriffs.org
DeFrank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org