LAKEMORE After a year of being back on the beat, the Lakemore Police Department is doing well and meeting its goal to have officers that know the community members and the community members know them.
The village struggled with finances though out an almost six-year fiscal emergency status with the state. During that time, the village dissolved its Police Department and contracted with Springfield Township Police Department in an effort to save money, which it did at the time.
The township provided police services and some of the Lakemore officers were hired by Springfield. Although the contract worked well, officials say, village residents spoke out saying they wanted their department back. Shortly after the village was released from fiscal emergency, village officials were able to work out a plan to do so.
Ken Ray, who was chief of the department at the time of fiscal emergency, then captain for the Springfield department, returned as chief to get the Lakemore department up and rolling by June 2017.
After a year of the department being physically back in the village, things are going well according to Ray. He said officials estimate having saved more than $50,000 compared the police contract costs in 2016.
"We have saved probably even more, it is a conservative number," he said.
Ray also spoke about the fact the department is running smoothly and everyone seems to be happy both in the community and the department.
"Our community has supported us so well," he said. "It has been a good year and we need to watch and stay on track."
Ray was a Springfield officer from 1981 to 2004 and then became chief for Lakemore. He was hired as captain for the Springfield department during the contract period and then hired back as chief for the village. The beginning of the Lakemore department dates back to the late 40s or early 50s.
Community policing is important to the department.
"It is kind of like being an old beat cop in a town. They knew everybody and they had a relationship with them," said Ray.
The department is doing so in several ways. First, the officers are encouraged to stop and talk to people and get to know them. They speak with delivery persons when they are in the community as they are a good source for seeing things that go on and can help to prevent problems. Officers are encouraged to give everyone they meet a business card. If a resident is in need of something, they have someone to connect with.
The department is striving to reorganize its senior program. Sgt. Dawson Wise said it is very important to check on seniors, especially in the winter.
"When we came back, the chief said to us that we believe in community policing but, also, in resourcing," Wise said.
Wise said they have gone out and found different agencies that can help people and they refer those that can benefit from the resources.
"A lot of people don’t realize they are eligible for services. We are a police department and a resource center," he said.
The goal is to be there to do things for seniors and Wise said he would like to set up a call program with volunteers who can come in and seniors several times a week to check on them.
Ray said, many times, seniors who live alone just need someone to talk to and check on them. They will be checking on the seniors in the community and acquainting them with programs they may qualify for.
The department has also found another cost cutting measure in starting what it calls doggie jail, which helps lost dogs reunite with their families or stray dogs get a home. Wise said everything the department needed to make the program work was donated by the community, including the materials for the kennels, dog food and veterinarian services. Officers from the village, Springfield and the Summit County Sheriff's Office have utilized the program. Dogs that are brought in are immediately "Facebooked" in the hopes that someone will recognize the dog so it can be reunited with family.
Ray explained that not long ago they had found a dog that had a medical problem. Officers reached out to Metropolitan Veterinarian Hospital in Copley, which has a program to take in a stray dog with medical issues, to try to help and find them a home.
"That is a resource that people don’t know about," said Wise.
The program helps to save money as for every dog sent to the dog warden the village receives a bill. A resident can call the police department about a stray or lost dog.
Residents have supported the dog program by volunteering their time to clean the cages and donating needed items. Wise said everything they have in the Police Department, "we have because residents donated because people care."
All the chairs were donated by a local businessman and others have donated TVs they use for monitors.
The department has started a Citizens On Preventative Patrol (C.O.P.P.) program which consists of volunteers that help with a variety of things in the community.
"They save us a ton of work and they are there whenever we need them," Ray said.
Members of C.O.P.P. volunteer at the school in the morning adding extra sets of eyes. C.O.P.P’s members also help with traffic, trick or treat, Christmas programs, races and high school football and basketball games.
The department began a program last year called Share A Christmas which offered a chance for kids to receive Christmas gifts.
"We hope we can help more kids through the Share A Christmas program this year," Ray said.
Having the department back allows officers more time to spend with residents and on calls they receive.
"Springfield is a great place. It is a big area and it is a lot of work and they do a really good job. They are busy and big," Ray said.
He said Lakemore is a village of about 3,000 residents while Springfield is a community of 16,000 residents and, during the day, the population is probably closer to 40,000.
"We can spend more time to maybe help people resolve problems that got them into trouble or a situation they can’t resolve on their own," Ray said. "Or, if an elderly person needs some help, we can spend some time with them.
"A lot of people get in trouble out of desperation. If you can’t feed your kids you steal. We just try to fulfill their needs and it keeps them out of trouble. A lot of people I run across can’t even go to the doctor, so we try to connect them to those resources as well. It is important and is out of the norm of police work but if you can fulfill their needs they won’t commit a crime," Ray added.
Wise said they try to talk with people to resolve problems but he acknowldeges there are those that officers can’t resolve a problem between them.
"Knowing people sometimes makes it easier to talk to people and we need to build trust with people and that takes time," he said. "When you talk to people it opens the door. We have had people say to us when you guys need something, reach out."
"When you grew up, the neighborhood helped raise you," Ray added. "You did something wrong they would tell your parents. We are trying to get people back to that––being the eyes and ears of the village. If you see something say something."
T-shirts and raffle tickets
The Lakemore Police Department is selling T-shirts for $20 and raffle tickets to win a 2018 Harley Davidson Sportster 48 Special to raise funds for the Share A Christmas program. With approximately 450 school age children in the village more than half receive some form of financial assistance and Share A Christmas helps to provide a little more for Christmas. T-shirts and raffle tickets are available at the Police Department.