LISBON - The East Palestine police officer working with the Columbiana County Drug Task Force will be assigned to the DTF permanently as part of the village's effort to thwart illegal drug activity in town.
East Palestine Police Chief Kevin Dickey and Village Manager Pete Monteleone met last week with county commissioners, who agreed to provide $20,000 to East Palestine to help defray the cost of assigning an officer full time to the DTF.
"I think the program you started is a success story," Dickey told commissioners, adding that East Palestine would be unable to participate without their financial assistance.
He was speaking of the program begun in late 2012 by commissioners, who started providing $10,000 to police departments that assign officers to the DTF on a part-time basis and $20,000 for officers assigned there full time.
East Palestine began working closer with the DTF in 2012 and the next year assigned an officer on a part-time basis. Meanwhile, the police department acquired drug dog Toney in late 2012.
"As you know, in 2012 we had a major shift in administration in East Palestine, and with that came a shift in policy," Dickey told commissioners.
Since then, the number of drug busts and drug investigations in East Palestine increased by nearly 600 percent. Meanwhile, the number of thefts and burglaries, most of which are drug-related, declined significantly over the same period.
"There's a direct correlation between drug enforcement and the reduction in crime," Dickey told them.
County Prosecutor Robert Herron reported in January the number of drug indictments and cases resulting from DTF investigations has increased significantly since police departments began rejoining the DTF, thanks to the financial assistance being provided by commissioners.
As mentioned above, the village assigned an officer part time to the DTF in 2013, and that resulted in four village residents being indicted on drug charges last year and two other cases expected to be presented to the county grand jury.
"We know there is a problem and we're trying to address it head-on," Dickey said.
East Palestine council member Ellen Beagle was also in attendance. "Speaking as a resident, I can see a difference," she said.
Commissioner Mike Halleck said he would like to take a group photograph of the five police/drug dogs in the county and place it on a billboard at the major entrances to the county as a warning to drug dealers.
"I'm an old retailer and I know advertising works," he said.
Monteleone, who served as police chief before Dickey, said he knows first-hand from listening to secretly taped conversations that drug dealers do not like dealing with police dogs, which serves as a deterrent.
He also said the key is to keep the pressure on, which is what the village is trying to do by increasing its commitment to the DTF.
"If you continue to aggressively attack the problem, the drug dealers will leave for an easier target and go somewhere else," Monteleone said.
Halleck thanked village officials for their commitment, adding that people continue to be in denial as to who pervasive the drug problems has become in the county.
"It's going on everywhere," he said.