April 16, 2014

Elyria
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Deputies: Shortage in staff adds to risk

ELYRIA — County sheriff’s deputies said events in recent days are proving what they’ve been saying all along: A shortage of deputies patrolling the roads is placing not only the public at risk, but deputies as well.
“I want to see some proactive responses for a change and address this before somebody gets killed,” said Dave Noll, a consultant for the county sheriff. “If you’re going to try to patrol the county with three or four cars, that’s ridiculous.”
Noll and sheriff’s deputies said an increase in call volume paired the effects of funding constraints — including eliminating deputy overtime — is making for a bad situation. 
In an incident Thursday, four off-duty deputies showed up to a foot chase through a bean field and woods in Carlisle Township because they’d heard on the police scanner that shots had been fired.
The gunshots actually came from a nearby farmer who had been hunting, but the deputies said their response was triggered because they didn’t want to leave three or four co-workers fending for themselves.
In all, two Highway Patrol troopers and officers from North Ridgeville, Oberlin, LaGrange and the Lorain County Metro Parks all ended up at the scene.
Recent police reports show the pooling of resources among area police agencies is becoming almost routine.
On Tuesday, a sheriff’s deputy called the Grafton police and asked an officer to check Cowley Road, where a resident had heard gunshots, a sheriff’s report said.
“Grafton (police) was checking the area for this agency due to no one being available to check a shots fired (complaint),” the report said.
Such incidents are pushing the Sheriff’s Office to scrutinize what they say is becoming an increasingly dangerous situation because some nights, there are as few as three or four deputies patrolling the entire county.
“It’s absurd,” Noll said. “Without a doubt we plan to discuss this issue — it’s just not up to the par we need it to be. It’s pretty bad.” 
Noll cites an incident that occurred early June 12 as the perfect example of why the office is concerned.
That morning, Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Damiano was called to Circle K in Eaton Township after a clerk reported a suspicious man inside the store.
Dispatchers from 911 received the call at 1:48 a.m., and Damiano arrived on scene at 1:53 a.m., Sheriff’s Capt. Rich Resendez said.
Damiano was one of five deputies and a sergeant patrolling 357 square miles of land in their jurisdiction that night, and he’d actually been called from a domestic violence incident in Sheffield to respond to the Eaton Township incident, deputies said.
Within minutes of arriving at the Circle K, Damiano located Adam Grimes, 19, wandering nearby.  Damiano approached him, and a bare-knuckles brawl ensued for at least five minutes — the exact length is unknown — until another deputy arrived as backup, Resendez said. 
During the struggle, Grimes pulled Taser barbs out of his chest, attacked the deputy, tried to steal his gun and cruiser and destroyed the deputy’s eyeglasses.
Deputy Robert Perkins had to leave an incident in southern Lorain County to assist Damiano; Perkins arrived on scene at 2:02 a.m. — more than 15 minutes after the initial call — and helped to subdue Grimes, who deputies suspect was under the influence of drugs.
Officers from North Ridgeville and Highway Patrol troopers also showed up to assist.
Strangely, Resendez said the number of deputies working that night was actually “at a premium” by the county’s standards: five patrol cars and one sergeant.
“We’re happy when there’re six guys,” Resendez said. “Usually it’s four. It’s fair to say that’s not the number we’d like to see.”
Noll was blunter.
“It’s absurd,” Noll said. “It’s unsafe. Right now, (they’re) trying to curb overtime and everything else because of budget cuts. If somebody calls in sick, you can’t replace them with somebody else.”
Resendez agreed. There are 54 county sheriff’s deputies, 27 of whom are assigned to road patrols, while the rest handle court duties, are assigned to the detective bureau or handle warrant arrests and civil affairs. 
The deputies on road patrol work eight-hour shifts. On any given shift, there are six to nine deputies available, but that doesn’t include days off, sick days, vacation days and other incidentals, Resendez said.
Generally, that ends up meaning there are about six deputies per shift.
“If one guy is on vacation, that takes you down to five guys,” Resendez said.
Noll said the manpower shortage is taking its toll on the deputies.
“This incident (Tuesday) could have ended in tragedy,” Noll said. “These guys know in the back of their minds that there’s no backup.”
Resendez said deputies are forced to adjust their style of policing for every call.
 “When I was a Lorain policeman and I called for backup, I heard another siren within 30 seconds,’’ Resendez said. “Out here, we say ‘Send another car right away’ and it may be 10 minutes before someone shows up, so now my style of policing needs to change.”
In some situations, it works. For instance, if a deputy finds a carload of robbery suspects trolling the area, he’ll wait for backup to arrive before trying to pull the car over, Resendez said.
But with incidents that unravel quickly, there’s little comfort.
“I think we’re sort of … not handcuffed, but we need to do what we can within the funding means,” Resendez said. “We can’t go out and hire 10 more deputies. We do what we can internally to provide safety.”
Contact Shawn Foucher at 329-7197 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.