STOPP program has visual reminder

The Ross County Sheriff’s Office’s renewed focus on drugs now has a visual reminder for residents of its STOPP initiative.

Stop Trafficking or Pay the Price is an initiative Sheriff George Lavender began implementing in the spring. The cruisers recently were outfitted with STOPP decals, and those deputies who obtain three drug convictions will get a STOPP decal to place on their cruiser.

The office also has had yard signs made to post when they are conducting a search warrant for drugs so people in the community know what they are doing at the home.

“(We want) the community to stay involved and be very vocal about what is going on and be involved with law enforcement,” Lavender said.

“This isn’t a sheriff’s office program. This is a community program,” public information officer Lt. Mike Preston said. “The only way this is going to work is if the community buys into it.”

Lavender admitted in the past the office hadn’t been in a position to really respond well to drug tips provided to the office because of resource problems.

“Even if it wasn’t handled the first time (it was reported), they need to call back and give us another chance to follow on the information they have,” Lavender said.

During his first term, Lavender said he was focused on getting the office to a certain standard he had in mind for the jail and road patrol divisions.

He also had to address the budget issue soon after taking office in 2009, when he had to trim 10 percent of the budget costs. Lavender this year said he thinks the office was in a place to turn attention to emphasizing drug trafficking enforcement.

STOPP’s first step was reaching out to the Ohio Highway Patrol to train road deputies on how to notice signs of drugs when conducting traffic stops. That effort has resulted in more traffic stops being made during down time and has led to some felony drug arrests.

In September, Lavender took one person from the road to begin working undercover along with the U.S. 23 Major Crimes Task Force to conduct the buys needed for search warrants.

So far, that deputy’s work has led to five search warrants, the discovery of four meth labs, 23 undercover drug buys and 11 arrests, Lavender said. He has requested $112,456 in additional funds from the Ross County Commissioners for his 2014 budget to replace that deputy on the road and to add a second drug officer.

A decision on the funding for the sheriff’s office and the rest of the county departments that receive funding from the county’s general fund will be finalized later this month.

Lavender said surrounding counties involved in the U.S. 23 Major Crimes Task Force also are looking at ways to boost efforts. The task force provides one dedicated officer that works across the counties, and member counties also strive to share officer resources across county lines when needed.

“The task force is always as strong as the membership and not just as far as funding. We have to have members involved and willing to help each other out,” Lavender said.

Lavender also is looking at new ways to keep drugs from getting into the jail. The office has issues in which people ordered to serve intermittent days, such as on weekends, are being pressured by “hardcore” inmates to bring drugs into the jail, Lavender said.

He hopes to be able to arrange to hold those intermittent inmates at the Terry Collins Reentry Center, where the sheriff’s office conducts a day reporting program.

In addition to the new efforts, Lavender said his office will remain committed to the DARE program in the county schools.

“I’ve always been and always will be supportive of the DARE program. We have to educate these kids in school early on,” Lavender said, adding some children at a recent DARE graduation had shared they already had been approached about using drugs.

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