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A night drive along in Wellsville reveals officers’ commitment

Wellsville police officers Justin Dickson (left) takes notes from an alleged victim as his colleague Daniel Wallace (right) holds the alleged weapon Saturday afternoon at a Cedar Alley address. Moments after clearing the scene there, they were dispatched to hear the side of the story from the accused, who was on his front porch a few blocks away and claiming he was assaulted. (Photo by Stephanie Ujhelyi)

WELLSVILLE – Officers face the problems of the bigger municipalities every day while handling issues with day common sense.

With their turn in the spotlight, The Review rode with three of Wellsville’s newest police officers on afternoon shift during a recent Saturday.

Police Lt. Marsha Eisenhart explained that the officers – including at least two patrolmen and third command officer – answer calls on the village streets, which are primarily bordered by the Liverpool Township and Columbiana County Sheriff’s jurisdiction. She projects that it takes an officer about two hours to patrol the village’s entire four miles.

“We do a little of everything from traffic stops, which sometimes lead to drug arrests,” she said. “We have a part-timer assigned to drug duty.”

Assigned to the particular Saturday afternoon shift were Daniel Wallace and Justin Dickson. They were joined halfway through on swing shift.

After comparing notes in their squad room back at headquarters, Wallace and Dickson went in separate cars with this reporter shadowing Wallace first, But it wasn’t long until they met again.

As Wallace, the senior patrolman on duty, agreed they see a variety on village streets. He estimated that half of Wellsville’s calls do involve drugs. But officers do see a lot of domestic violence and assaults too.

That statement turned out to be a precursor to what was in store for the evening, as the Full Sturgeon Moon later would begin moving into place above Wellsville for its big reveal Sunday.

All three officers would acknowledge throughout the night that heroin still appears to be the drug of choice in this quaint little community.

“I see much more heroin than marijuana on traffic stops,” said Wallace, a two-year veteran of the department.

Shortly before 4 p.m., he was sent to a residence in the 500 block of Commerce Street, where a homeowner explained that the couple who had resided in the home as tenants left a parting gift.

They trashed the place on their way out.

As the complainant would tell Wallace and Dickson – who was his backup on the call – they all shared mutual relatives and allegedly were a little miffed after she inherited the house and not them.

She recently had asked them to vacate. So they responded with destruction, punching holes in doors and walls, breaking windows and even ripping out the kitchen cabinetry.

According to her statement, the kitchen sink wasn’t even off limits, as it also was removed along with all the light bulbs on the premises as they left.

That call kicked off a night of action, with very little dormant time for patrolling. However, the silence would have been a novelty, one of the officers explained.

After all, the officers like to patrol the streets, as it generally has proven to be a deterrent for serious bad behavior. Bars cut off patrons early Saturday night due to the new restrictions from the state instituted on liquor sales because of COVID-19.

However, the first several hours still were heavy with activity, ranging from alleged burglaries, disputes and assaults.

After responding to alleged assaults in Cedar Alley, Center Street and Broadway Street, it quickly became clear that the primary role of a police officer in Wellsville is more of a peacemaker than anything else.

All three officers acknowledged that this is the task that they take most seriously. They are completely committed to shaping good community relations as they traverse the streets.

All three took every opportunity to wave as they pass by while patrolling the village’s streets – especially toward the children. Children developing fear of police officers was not productive, they all noted as they routinely made contact with their citizens in impromptu manner.

It could be a positive exchange at a stop sign over motorcycle parts or while pumping gas at the corner gas station.

It did seem apparent that officers strive to develop non-confrontational relationships with their citizenry. It can range from one officer who is asked at a stop sign from a man on his front porch about sources to find motorcycle parts to another officer talking about his soft spot for rehabilitated offenders.

Each has a different approach to his job.

During his time behind the wheel, Wallace acknowledged that one of the most rewarding parts of his job is seeing longtime drug users rehabilitate in life and achieve success beyond their addiction. He said that it isn’t necessarily a popular view.

While in the police academy, he had a childhood friend died of an overdose after becoming dependent on painkillers. “A lot of people may just see a drug addict, but I see someone’s father, brother or son,” Wallace added.

Dickson, originally from Salineville, explained that he also finds the community policing model a positive for the job. “I also want drugs off the streets, but I also try not to make little kids scared of cops,” he continued.

The father of four children, Dickson said that they all are interested in law enforcement careers one day.

He acknowledges that a lot of their shifts are spent mediating disputes.

“We are just here to keep the peace,” he added.

Dickson takes his role as a helper very seriously. At one point, while proceeding down Main Street past the gazebo and MyBar, Dickson notices a group out by a vehicle lockout. The trio, which at this time now includes Dakota Wetzel, attempt to assist the owner, who really did not want to spend the money on an assist.

Lt. Eisenhart said Monday that it not something that the department usually advocates due to insurance if an officer would cause damage.

Around 8:50 p.m., Wetzel, who also had been on Wellsville part time for about a year-and-half, pulls over a car with no rear plate at Chester Avenue and 18th Street.

The car appears new, but it doesn’t appear to be a case of the man’s temporary tag just falling off. Dispatch checked LEADS and found no vehicles registered in the driver’s name. That triggered a tow truck and a search of the vehicle.

The driver did come clean on his own about a Crown Royal bag concealing weed, a grinder and pipe in his vehicle prior to a search, resulting in an additional charge.

Those charges will proceed through Wellsville Magistrate Court, where they send all non-jailing offenses.

Wallace and Dickson were scheduled to conclude their shift at 11 p.m., after wrapping up any paperwork or calls. Wetzel was joined by unidentified midnight shift officer until 4 a.m.

In addition to employing Police Chief Ed Wilson and herself, Lt. Eisenhart explained that the department employs nine full-time and five part-time officers. They do not utilize neither dash nor body cams.

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