U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach said law enforcement has to collaborate to be effective.

Dettelbach was the guest speaker at Wednesday’s annual METRICH Enforcement Unit meeting at the Holiday Inn.

“The work that we do together is no longer something that’s optional,” Dettelbach said. “If we don’t do it, we are failing at our jobs.”

Dettelbach said collaboration is needed now, when agencies must do more with less.

“Criminals don’t recognize boundaries when they reach the end of Richland County or Cuyahoga County,” he said. “Now, nor do we. If they’re across five counties, we’re across five counties.”

Dettelbach, a former federal prosecutor, heads up the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio. He touched on the challenges his office faces with the government shutdown.

“I had to send about 50 percent of our staff home,” Dettelbach said. “We’ve been dealing with fires nearest to the porch.”

The U.S. attorney expressed concern about grant money going away during the shutdown. The Mansfield Police Department recently learned it will receive an $850,000 grant to cover salaries and benefits for four new officers for three years.

Noting that METRICH deals primarily with drug cases, Dettelbach said an average of five Ohio residents die each day of heroin overdoses. “We have a heroin epidemic that is absolutely crippling our region,” he said. “This heroin isn’t just in our core urban centers. It’s everywhere.”

Mansfield police Chief Dino Sgambellone, METRICH program director, spoke briefly before introducing Dettelbach.

Sgambellone said heroin and pharmaceuticals are “at the top of the list” of issues facing METRICH. One of the unit’s goals this year was to remove 542 grams of heroin from the streets. So far, METRICH has confiscated nearly twice that amount.

“We’re knocking heroin out of the park,” Sgambellone said.

METRICH, the largest decentralized task force in Ohio, covers 10 counties and about 600,000 people. The task force has been around for 27 years.

“As part of our philosophy, we try to combine enforcement efforts with prevention and education,” Sgambellone said. “You can’t arrest your way out of the problem.”

Originally published in the News Journal on October 10, 2013.