Editor’s Note: This is part of five-day series looking at the top stories from 2021 and what we can expect in 2022. The series will be published Dec. 26-30.
Law enforcement agencies in Guernsey County are preparing for the daily demands they will face next year after a busy 2021.
Guernsey County Sheriff Jeff Paden said his office’s top priority is continuing to provide the tools necessary to meet those demands while keeping the community safe.
“We strive to train and equip the men and women of the Guernsey County Sheriff’s Office to face today’s evolving threats and crimes,” said Paden. “Ultimately, we want to continue to provide a full spectrum of services to the citizens of Guernsey County.”
“We are always looking forward to identify the next threat to our community and those individuals who look to hurt us,” added Paden. “We never want to be left thinking, I didn’t see that coming.”
One area identified by Major Jeremy Wilkinson as a focal point in 2022 is internet crimes.
“We want our investigators to have the expertise, knowledge and technology to investigate those crimes because they are the wave of the future and we will provide them with the necessary training,” said Wilkinson. “The training will help us meet those challenges when they arise.”
With more training, Wilkinson said local investigators will be able to work with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation to investigate and solve cyber crimes.
An old foe — illegal narcotics — will be another focus next year for the sheriff’s office.
“With the drug epidemic that is sweeping the nation, you have to keep pressure on drug dealers,” said Paden. “If you relax for just a second, they will come right back and gain ground on you. You have to keep pressure on them every day.
“We will continue to pursue those individuals that are using, selling and bringing illegal narcotics into our community.”
Right now in Guernsey County, law enforcement is seeking a spike in methamphetamine and pressed pills that are most often pure fentanyl.
“People buying pills off the street think they are getting one thing when in reality it’s fentanyl,” said Wilkinson. “They really don’t know what they are getting from these drug dealers and that includes school-age kids who are buying pills off the street.
“High school and middle school kids are doing things today at a much younger age and that includes buying drugs but not getting what they think they buying. It’s very dangerous,” added Wilkinson.
As for 2021, calls to the Guernsey County 911 Dispatch Center are up compared to 2020.
Dispatchers provide enhanced 911 telephone service and Computer-Aided Dispatch to assist in efficient dispatching for six law enforcement agencies and 12 fire departments in the county.
The center had received 14,876 calls, up 2% from 14,573 calls a year ago, as of mid-December.
The 911 calls included 2,259 placed via land line, a 6% decrease from 2,406 in 2020, and 12,588 from wireless devices, a 4% increase from 12,099 from last year.
The number of calls for service totaled 7,884, up from 7,676 in 2020 for a 3% increase.
The dispatch center also received 67,375 non-emergency calls compared to 69,268 a year ago.
The Communications Division, under the command of Sgt. Dustin Best, employs 11 full- and part-time employees.
They are the first line of defense in making sure that first responders get to where they need to be and have up to the second information on emergency scenes.
In terms of call volume, the top 10 calls received by the sheriff’s office included requests for assistance from other agencies, 380; burglar alarms, 354; well-being checks, 283; squad runs, 247 including 65 for people deceased on arrival; suspicious person, 236; verbal disputes, 230; dogs at large, 227; suspicious vehicles, 222; thefts or larceny complaints, 183; and harassment or threat complaints, 158.
Accident calls totaled 545 so far this year including 213 with unknown injuries, 166 resulting in injuries, 107 non-injury crashes and 59 on private property.
As for fire calls, the dispatch center tallied 69 vehicles, 67 structures and 33 reports of a possible fire due to smoke in the area.
Deputies have also conducted more than 1,000 traffic stops, served 312 civil papers and investigated 173 road blocks or hazards, along with nearly 90 other calls for various criminal and civil complaints.
In the Guernsey County Jail, corrections officers are being equipped with new Axon body cameras that will synchronize with simliar cameras worn by road deputies to better serve inmates and residents of the county.
Cambridge Police Department
Officers in Cambridge, where multiple drug overdose incidents are reported each week, will also continue their battle against illegal narcotics.
“Illegal narcotics are still a huge problem in the city,” said Police Chief Mark Delancey.
One way the department looks to combat illegal drug trafficking is to be more proactive in traffic enforcement and more visible in the community.
Captain Dave Peoples said the department will also work to keep officers up to date in terms of training and knowledge of better serve the community.
Department leaders expect to add a new officer and two new police cruisers during the upcoming year.
“We have included the officer and two cruisers in the 2022 budget,” said Peoples. “We have also hired a new dispatcher who will start in 2022.”
“The end goal is make the citizens and visitors more safe,” said Delancey.
In August, the police department started receiving Narcan for officers to utilize in overdose incidents or distribution to the general public.
Peoples reported Cambridge Police Department statistics are unavailable because the agency does not compile them until after Dec. 31.
The captain hopes a new Computer-Aided Dispatch system being installed in 2022 will make the process more user friendly to reduce the amount of time it takes to compile the report.
Ohio State Highway Patrol
The Cambridge post of the State Highway Patrol will focus on reducing the number of fatal crashes in 2022 after investigating 12 in Guernsey and Noble counties this year.
This year’s total is well above four fatal crashes in 2020 and higher than the post’s three-year average of seven per year.
“We need to eliminate fatal crashes,” said post Commander Lt. Melanie Appleman. “We want zero fatal crashes. We need to look at the areas where fatal crashes occur that we need to be working and how to work those areas including the hours the accident happen.
“I don’t want to have to notify some family that someone has died again,” added Appleman.
Of the fatal crashes this year, six were alcohol-related and three involved motorcycles. Five of the victims were not wearing safety belts.
The patrol will continue to focus on distracted drivers after 1,503 violations in 2021.
“It is disappointing that people are still driving distracted,” said Appleman. “We made a concentrated effort this year to reduce the number of distracted drivers, but the numbers are still too high.”
Appleman said not all of the troopers’ interactions with distracted drivers involved writing tickets, as they also issued warnings in an effort to educate motorists.
Other areas where the Cambridge post will focus its efforts next year include alcohol-related violations, drug-impaired drivers, failure to utilize safety belts, speed-related violations and motorcycle safety to other motorists.
Troopers issued 157 citations for operating a vehicle while under the influence in 2021.
Appleman said troopers will also work to better educate pedestrians after an increase statewide in fatal accidents.
“Those numbers are creeping up,” said Appleman. “We need to talk to people regarding safe places to walk and motorists to be on the look out for pedestrians. People need to slow down and be alert.”
The Cambridge post investigated 1,268 accidents in 2021, up from 1,123 in 2020.
Some of the top variables in those accidents included excessive speed, 332; youth related, 317; deer related, 235; failure to yield, 117; and alcohol related, 68.
The top routes for accidents included Interstate 77, 209 accidents; I-70, 175; Ohio 209, 136; U.S. 22, 120; and County Road 35, 45. The peak times for crashes were the evening commute including 5 p.m. with 83; 4 p.m. with 79; and 6 p.m. with 72.
“People ask why we issue so many tickets, and that’s why. We don’t want people to crash and be killed or injured, or have to use their insurance to pay for damage to a vehicle.
“We need to work together with troopers doing their job and motorists doing their job by following the laws to make the roads safer for everyone.”
Appleman encourages people to visit the patrol’s website, statepatrol.oh.gov, and utilize the Ohio Statistics and Analytics for Traffic Safety (OSTATS) to see accident information for the entire state including Guernsey and Noble counties.