The Highland County Sheriff’s Office is patrolling more miles, saving money through renegotiating food contracts and eliminating taxpayer-provided cell phones, constantly engaging in “community policing,” and preparing to place the department’s first female road patrol officer into action.
Sheriff Donnie Barrera told the Highland County Tea Party on Monday that there is “definitely a need” for a female patrol officer.
“I think the county’s ready for it,” said the sheriff.
Later, Barrera said the road patrol officer would be Jennifer Swackhamer, a deputy and former detective who has been with the office since 2005. He said she has been in training for her new role for the past month.
At a meeting held at the Hi-Tec Center in Hillsboro, Barrera said he has increased patrol miles by 10 percent, in part by increasing the number of road patrol officers from 10 to 12. He said he has implemented a cross-training plan that allows duties to continue being performed regardless of deputies being absent due to illness or vacations.
Barrera said he eliminated deputies having taxpayer-supplied cell phones, saving $3,000 a year. He was also able to use a Furtherance of Justice Fund grant to purchase two used vehicles from the Ohio State Highway Patrol for transporting inmates to other prisons, and had them painted for free.
He said he recently negotiated a new food contract for inmates that reduced per-meal pricing from $2.39 to $1.79. He also cut a new deal with a different company that will allow the department to make a 35 percent commission from the inmate commissary, up from 25 percent.
Barrera also described other changes and improvements which were detailed in a previous Times-Gazette article, including an upgrade to the dispatch center and painting offices which have not been painted since the Justice Center opened in 2000.
Barrera noted the recent effort by many metropolitan police departments to engage in “community policing” is a practice he said has been ongoing in Highland County for many years.
“We do community policing here every day,” said the sheriff. “We’re different than the cities. If I’m not on a call, I’m looking for someone to talk to. I’d rather see my officers talking to five people than writing one ticket.”
He said developing a rapport with citizens across the county leads to more reporting of criminal activity.
Barrera also strongly advocated Ohio’s concealed carry law, saying his office has made it more convenient to apply for or renew concealed carry licenses by extending window hours for such applications.
Barrera said the right for law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons “reduces crime and helps law enforcement.” He said, “Everybody ought to carry.”
Touching on other issues, the sheriff:
• Said he does not support the opening of drug rehab housing at Rocky Fork Lake or anywhere else in Highland County. “Clinton (County) has one, and they’re out there all the time,” he said, referring to Clinton County law enforcement.
• Said he is utilizing more volunteer special deputies, noting that former Hillsboro Police Chief Nick Thompson is volunteering 40 to 50 hours a week, and Dan Strain from Greenfield, a former full-time officer, is volunteering 15 hours a week.
• Said the department does not use body cameras or cruiser cameras due to the costs.
• Said a substation in Paint Township will now be located at the Paint Creek fire department site at Rainsboro, after plans to open a joint office with ODNR at the Rocky Fork Lake campground fell through.
• Commended Highland County Common Pleas Judge Rocky Coss for tough sentencing, saying, “We’re real fortunate to have a judge like that.”
• Said heroin is surpassing meth as the biggest drug problem, adding that “it’s going to take everybody in this room,” plus the federal government stopping drugs at the border to effectively fight the problem.
• Said he was not aware of Homeland Security or troop exercises in Highland County that were mentioned by some in attendance Monday, but said no one needed to be concerned about the federal government gaining more control over local law enforcement, adding, “You don’t have to worry while I’m here.”
Barrera was introduced in glowing terms by Tim Blair, Tea Party president, who said of the sheriff, “Everybody knows him, and everybody loves him.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.