August 28, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria to bring back Police Department’s Narcotics Unit

ELYRIA — Drugs and crime.

In most cities — Elyria is no different — the two go hand in hand, and since the Elyria Police Department disbanded its Narcotics Unit two years ago because of budget concerns, Mayor Holly Brinda said burglaries in the city have increased. She can’t help but notice an increase in drug use, as well, and sees the two trends as not mere coincidence.

In an effort to curb the rise in drug use and the number of burglaries, Brinda announced Monday the Narcotics Unit will be resurrected in 2013. The move will mean three officers will work nearly exclusively on drug crimes.

“There is a definite correlation between the drug, especially heroin, challenges of Northeast Ohio — it’s not just Elyria — and the escalated number of burglaries,” Brinda said. “We think if we can attack the root cause — that being the drugs — then the burglary rate will come down.”

The city hasn’t had a dedicated drug unit since January 2011, but it’s not because such a division was not needed or wanted. Police Chief Duane Whitely cut the unit just one year into his role as the department’s head as a way to save money and keep patrol officers on the street.

The move came after voters rejected a tax proposal that would have provided the funding to hire more officers, and the department knew it would face another budget cycle without any additional funds from city coffers.

“Back when we shut down the unit, I said I could not picture a city of Elyria’s size operating without a Narcotics Unit, and I’m very happy we are bringing it back,” Whitely said.

Brinda said finding the cash this year to fund the unit was not easy, but it’s being done by cobbling together a number of resources.

The three-member unit will be paid partly from the law enforcement trust fund, which is confiscated drug money, and from savings the city anticipates from having two officers deployed overseas. Both of those officers are due back in July, but their deployment equates to a half-year of unpaid salaries.

Further, Whitely said the city already pays full salary and benefits for one officer, who works with the Lorain County Drug Task Force. He will return to the Elyria roster with the resurrection of the Narcotics Unit. And a third officer who had a desk job will round out the unit when his duties move to a civilian employee.

“Of course, we will have the challenge of determining how to perpetuate that money, but we believe with the Narcotics Unit, drug money confiscations will escalate meaning revenue will escalate,” Brinda said. “It makes sense to use drug money to make drug arrests.”

Whitely said he anticipates the unit being busy once it is up and running.

“The Neighborhood Impact Unit does work drug crimes, but they also work street crimes,” he said. “This unit will work drug crimes solely so, yeah, I expect arrests to be way up this year.”

Finance Committee Chairman Vic Stewart, D-at large, called the move a good one for the city and a sign that things are moving forward.

Using crime report analysis software to look at the types of calls officers are responding to — more than 4,600 so far this year — shows officers are seeing a number of drug-related and burglary calls. Whitely said a call for service does not mean officers find what they are initially dispatched to investigate, but the number shows that dozens of calls came in as either suspected drug use or abuse and burglaries, which heavily taxes patrol officers.

In just the first two months of this year, 34 calls were drug-related and another 76 dealt with possible burglaries. Those figures do not include the hundreds of times officers are sent with vague information and dispatchers tag the calls as suspicious circumstances.

Elyria’s gain will not result in a loss for the county drug taskforce, said Chief Deputy Dennis Cavanaugh, who heads the Lorain County Drug Task Force. He calls a reformed Elyria unit a good thing.

“Whenever a new unit is created, it means there are more narcotics officers on the streets,” Cavanaugh said. “We will just be able to expand on the work we already do together. If there is a big drug case then believe me Elyria, Lorain and the county are all involved because drugs don’t care about city boundaries.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.