Last updated: August 23. 2013 12:02PM - 1034 Views

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LIMA — A man tried to abduct a woman in a parking lot earlier this month, smack in the middle of Lima.

She fought him off and notified police. The first police officers at the scene were not from the Lima Police Department, nor were they from the Allen County Sheriff’s Office.

These officers were from the police agency at St. Rita’s Medical Center. The attempted abduction of the nursing assistant happened on hospital property.

Lima Police Department officials were quickly brought into the mix because the hospital sits in the middle of the city on 62 acres, but they didn't fully take over the case. Notifying the Lima Police Department is typical, especially for cases that may stretch into the city or including bigger crimes, officials said.

“Together we make a determination on how we are going to go forward with this,” St. Rita’s Police Chief Jeff Ramey said.

The working relationship highlights a collaboration that happens every day in the area, with equally qualified agencies working together on cases or sharing a resource another does not have.

Unique agencies

While some may mistake St. Rita’s police officers merely for security officers, that is hardly the case. The agency has 26 full-time employees, with dispatchers and support staff. Some officers in the department are retired from other agencies, such as the Lima Police Department and a sheriff’s office. Ramey is a retired state patrol lieutenant.

“All are OPOTA [Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy] certified police officers,” Ramey said.

St. Rita’s officers handled 29,123 calls for service on hospital grounds last year, which includes 2.1 million square feet inside the hospital space. Almost all cases were handled by the officers, including some felony crimes, such as theft of medication, Ramey said.

St. Rita’s calls the Lima Police Department to take over if cases need a lot more attention, he said.

“If it requires detectives and a lot of legwork, it doesn’t make sense to take our resources away from security work when we have a relationship with LPD,” Ramey said.

Officers spend most of their time making sure the hospital is a safe place for patients, employees and visitors, Ramey said.

A federal case

Allen County is one of the most unique counties in the state when it comes to police agencies. Besides Lima Police Department, St. Rita’s, the state patrol, commissioned park rangers and other smaller agencies, there is the police department at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center.

Tank plant Police Chief Greg Heckel said his officers are federal police officers. Additionally, the property has federal jurisdiction, so cases are handled through federal court in Toledo.

That includes cases such as the occasional drunken driver who wanders onto the property. Those cases are prosecuted under a federal law that mirrors state law for a particular charge not listed in the federal code, Heckel said.

Officers at the JSMC come from various backgrounds. Some are retired from local police agencies, while others are military police officers who are retired but still young, around the age of 40, he said.

“There’s a wealth of knowledge there,” Heckel said.

Tank plant officers have three primary functions: To maintain the security of the grounds, tank plant building and the security of its employees.

Still, the police at the tank plant rely on local agencies for help. It's not for backup, per se, because state officers do not have jurisdiction on federal property, but to borrow a device to test blood-alcohol levels t0 test a possible drunken driver, for example, Heckel said.

Heckel is a retired military police officer and worked for a state police department before he was hired at the tank plant. He said the job still boils down to police work.

“There is very little difference between military and state law enforcement,” he said.

Call for help

One agency in Allen County frequently called for help is the Allen County Sheriff’s Office. The agency has a detective bureau, crime scene officers and various tools of the trade to process evidence.

“If they want, any of the agencies in Allen County, if they need us for any type of assistance, we will offer any help we can give,” Allen County Sheriff Sam Crish said.

Allen County has 15 police agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office dispatches calls to other agencies unless someone is not on duty.

Each agency has its own jurisdiction, and technically even the smaller agencies could handle a homicide case. Most of the smaller agencies call in the Sheriff’s Office, which is better equipped to handle such cases, Crish said.

“A lot of them, if it’s a felony, they will turn it over to us. They might have somebody who works with the detective bureau,” Crish said.

That includes some of the smaller agencies that are not on call 24 hours a day, Crish said.

“If they get into a situation, with being a part-time agency, they are not going to be able to investigate, they will turn it over to us,” Crish said. “Most felonies, for the most part, the smaller agencies turn them over to us.”

Crish maintains regular contact with all the agencies in the county, and officers from other departments know they can call his agency for help at any time. He said it’s important to keep a good working relationship.

“If I have to pick up the phone and call someone, I don’t have a problem with that. We’re all doing the same job,” Crish said.

A good example of the working relationship is with the Shawnee Township Police Department. In October 2011, a man walked up to a sheriff’s deputy and said he killed his brother.

The crime happened in Shawnee Township, but the man was at the Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff detectives started questioning the man after notifying Shawnee Township, which sent officers to the home to see if there was a body inside.

When officers found a body, the agencies worked together on the case despite Shawnee Township having the officers and experience to handle the case. Chief Mike Keith said that case was unique because the killer showed up at the Sheriff’s Office, but the crime happened in the township.

“Generally, we handle all our stuff,” Keith said. “But you don’t go interrupt an interview because you want to handle it.”

Shawnee Township has a detective about as seasoned as they get in Don Marik, a retired Lima Police Department detective whose years of experience almost equals the total years of all detectives, except one, in the Lima Police Department he left last year.

Marik also is cross-trained in crime scene processing although Shawnee does not have specific officers assigned to that task on a full-time basis, Keith said.

Sharing resources

Having most of the resources and experience doesn’t mean Shawnee won’t ask for help when needed, Keith said.

“Put it this way: If we need help, we would ask,” he said.

For example, Shawnee Township does not have an ultraviolet light, to look for traces of body fluids such as blood, Keith said.

It’s easier and more cost effective to borrow the light from another agency for Shawnee to use. That goes the same for every agency when it comes to equipment that may be rarely used and is too expensive for every agency to own, Keith said.

In Allen County, its Chiefs of Police Association meets once a month to talk about issues and make sure everyone is on the same page. The association has created a list of every resource, special training or expertise each agency has in case another agency needs it, Keith said.

Crish said the association is invaluable. Everyone gets to know each other and each department’s resources.

Regional resources

That association is not unique to Allen County, though. Auglaize and Putnam counties have similar associations.

Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon said the association he is a part of meets monthly, with the meeting at a different agency each time. A part of that is to let officers at every agency, 10 in Auglaize County, know there is no pecking order among agencies in the county, and all are in it to work together for the public.

“One of the reasons we have those monthly meetings is if there are any issues we get those ironed out,” he said.

Putnam County Sheriff Mike Chandler said his office is not the only agency that handles felony investigations in Putnam County out of the 13 police agencies.

“We have several that handle their own,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Office is more of a resource for agencies to use should help be needed.

“If we have something and one of the police departments doesn't, we will provide it for them,” he said.

When the Sheriff’s Office is called in, Chandler said, the local agency remains the primary agency, with the Sheriff’s Office assuming a role of assisting in the investigation unless asked to handle the case.

“We’re not going to go and just take over. We’re going to assist until we’re asked to take over,” he said.

Solomon said it’s important to work together and have a good working relationship because his office sometimes needs as much help as it lends other agencies. For example, a deputy may need backup from a nearby agency.

If the township or city, or one nearby, has an officer on patrol, that officer can respond first, he said.

“If we need help, they are there,” Solomon said.

Agencies in Auglaize County work together on investigations when another is brought in, Solomon said.

The Sheriff’s Office does not kick another agency off a case after that agency has called the Sheriff’s Office for assistance, Solomon said.

“We don’t necessarily take over the case. We work hand in hand with them,” he said.

Earlier this month, Solomon’s agency and St. Marys police officers responded to a call of a man threatening to shoot police. When officers arrived, the man came out of his house holding a gun and both officers fired at him.

Because it was an officer-involved shooting, both agencies quickly called in a state police agency to handle the investigation, although both are assisting. At a news conference last week, Solomon checked his ego at the door, stepped back and let St. Marys Interim Chief Tim Eberle handle most of a news conference.

Ptl. Ron Tullis
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