Columbiana council places part-time police officer on Drug Task Force

COLUMBIANA-City Council moved forward Tuesday night with putting a part-time officer on the County Drug Task Force (DTF).

Police Chief Tim Gladis gave the move the green light after speaking with DTF Director Lt. Brian McLaughlin, Sheriff Ray Stone and County Prosecutor Robert Herron.

He had previously expressed reservations about participating, and was concerned the local department wouldn’t benefit from the joint effort.

He told council those reservations have since been addressed.

“In this event there are 10 specific things … I use to measure our participation,” he said. “Things that are hard facts that can be looked at and measured over time to tell us whether or not our decision was a good one to participate.”

Those things include how many drug cases are handled locally and how many drug houses or drugs are taken off city streets, he explained.

“We need to see results,” he said.

The city police department had a full-time senior officer on the task force 17 years before Gladis removed him from that capacity for financial reasons. The decision was also made, he has said, because the local department wasn’t receiving detailed information showing how the officer was being used or what benefit the participation was having locally.

As Gladis deliberated rejoining the force he was also concerned that assigning an officer would take away from local coverage and availability.

After going over the schedule, “We were able to work with our part-time schedule to provide an officer 20 hours a week without creating a problem or deficit in our schedule or a lack of coverage,” he said.

He and council members began discussing DTF participation after county commissioners recently offered $10,000 and $20,000 to cities, villages and municipalities willing to assign officers to the force on a full or part-time basis.

The city has only been discussing part-time participation at this time, and would receive $10,000 to cover the salary of the officer assigned to the force for one year.

The money is available from commissioners in the form of tax revenue from Ohio’s first casinos.

Gladis said he is encouraged by the DTF’s new leadership and believes there is nothing to fear regarding the ongoing state investigation.

The task force is being investigated for possible financial irregularities that came to to light under the leadership of the former director, who has since been replaced by McLaughlin.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (OBCI&I) and the state auditor’s office are looking into the matter.

“I have every confidence OBCI&I who is leading the investigation will do a good job. If there is anything there, they will find it. Either way, it’s a good thing for our citizens in this county,” Gladis said.

He added that under McLaughlin’s leadership the task force is moving in a direction that fosters accountability.

The DTF Board of Control gave McLaughlin permission to close all financial accounts and open new ones since the investigation began.

Council passed a first reading of the legislation assigning an officer to the force during the Tuesday meeting. Councilmen Bryan Blakeman and James King were absent for personal reasons, as was Mayor David Spatholt.

Council President Lowell Schloneger led the meeting and wished to thank county commissioners for offering the money.

Gladis did not wish to disclose after the meeting which officer will be assigned to the DTF.