The number of home break-ins, especially during daylight hours, appears to have increased dramatically in Columbiana County during the past few months.
Because of that, Sheriff Ray Stone's plan to increase the number of road patrols should be welcome news to rural property owners.
Ever since Stone took office in 2008 he has been looking for ways to redeploy deputies to beef up road patrols and result in more detectives investigating crimes. In June, he reorganized the civil division, with the result being two deputies reassigned to the road patrol.
Stone said he learned last year that he may be one of the few sheriffs in Ohio who transports inmates charged with misdemeanors to and from Municipal Court. Stone and county Prosecutor Robert Herron became aware of a recent opinion by the Ohio Attorney General's Office that reaffirms a state law regarding the inmate transportation responsibilities of the county sheriff.
The legal opinion says transporting county jail inmates charged with misdemeanors to and from county municipal court until they are convicted is not the sheriff's responsibility. Stone said the law requires him to transport inmates only to county Common Pleas Court and county Juvenile Court, and that's what he intends to do in the future.
At Stone's request, Herron sent a letter to county Municipal Court judges Mark Frost and Carol Robb and East Liverpool Municipal Court Judge Melissa Byers Emmerling, advising them of the law and the attorney general's opinion.
Last week, Judge Byers-Emmerling replied to the letter with a list of ways she intends to comply with the sheriff's request while still fulfilling inmates' needs to be available for court appearances.
East Liverpool Municipal Court would expect to be hit hardest from the change, with Byers-Emmerling saying the sheriff's office estimates it transports 1,000 inmates per year from the jail to hearings in East Liverpool. A round-trip to the jail and the city is about 40 miles.
Byers-Emmerling, who is running for county Common Pleas Court judge this year, outlined the steps she intends to take to comply with Stone's decision using available technology.
First, she plans to expand the practice of using a live video hookup from the jail to conduct court hearings by making laptop computers equipped with video cameras available for attorneys and clients to communicate privately. She further plans to have a telephone installed in the courtroom and linked to the arraignment room at the jail, which would also allow inmates and their attorneys to speak privately during hearings.
Byers-Emmerling said these moves won't entirely eliminate the need for face-to-face court hearings but it should significantly reduce the number of inmate transports and save all involved a considerable sum of time and money. For those hearings requiring the defendant to be present, the arresting police department will be given the transportation responsibility. Byers-Emmerling intends to meet with the police chiefs for the departments within the court's jurisdiction -East Liverpool and Liverpool and St. Clair townships - to discuss the possibility of coordinating transportation to cut down on trips when possible.
Tough times require us to try to do more with less. It's good to see county officials working together to find ways to provide essential services while still containing costs. When everyone works together we can often find a better way of doing things and the new inmate transport program looks like it will be a good example of that.