AKRON The Ohio State Patrol recently opened a new Summit County post on the campus of the University of Akron.
Lt. Antonio Matos said the Ohio State Patrol has already had a presence in Summit County prior to opening the post. There used to be a post nearly 20 years ago in Cuyahoga Falls before the decision was made to combine the Summit and Stark County posts into the Canton post.
"We were still sending troopers up here (to Summit County)," Matos said. "Our response times weren’t as adequate as we wanted them to be."
The new post has a staff of 16, along with Matos. His goal is to add more troopers, which is in the works. He is grateful for the University of Akron for putting the post in a space on campus, which gives it a central location in the county.
"Many of the troopers are from this area," Matos said. "It is great to be able to come back."
Matos said the state patrol may work with the university coming up if it has a large event and need some assistance.
With the creation of the new post, Matos said troopers are still working closely with the Canton post.
Two of the largest areas the state patrol would like to work on is addressing drug problems and working to reduce the number of fatal crashes in the county.
"We have a commitment to the community to reduce fatal crashes," Matos said.
Matos said fatal crashes not only affect those that live in a community, but those who travel through it.
In 2017, there were 679 traffic fatalities across the state. So far this year, there have been 665.
Last year, Summit County had 43 fatal crashes, which was up from 40 in 2016. So far this year there have been 16, eight of which occurred in Akron.
"Every time there is a fatal crash I feel we failed," Matos said. "We didn’t do something or didn’t do enough of something."
Matos said the number of fatal crashes is remains too high and the goal is to cut those numbers in half. The State Patrol has found many of the fatal crashes have occurred on city streets.
"We want people to have fun, but make good choices," Matos said. "Have a designated driver and wear a seatbelt."
He is confident though the numbers can go down.
"I think we can get the numbers down as long as we have collaboration," Matos said. "Also people have to understand to make better choices."
Not only are crashes occurring from people driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but distracted driving crashes continue to rise. Matos said distracted driving crashes aren't only due to cell phones and says other factors such as putting on makeup have distracted drivers from the road.
"Your car eventually becomes a weapon if you are not paying attention," Matos said.
The Ohio State Patrol is also planning to conduct several checkpoints throughout the county with help from local departments.
Matos said the highway patrol has jurisdiction on all public roads including highways, county roads and city streets. Growing the relationship with police departments throughout the county is also something Matos hopes will happen. He said if there is something it can partner with a neighboring department or the Summit County Sheriff's Office, the Summit Post will.
"We want to be proactive rather than reactive," Matos said. "We will be there for them."
With the opening of the new post, Matos said the response so far has been very welcoming. He said when the post was in Canton, a lot of the Summit County local departments had to respond more to accidents, so having the Summit County Post takes some weight off those departments. Matos said the 911 dispatch center will normally determine if a local department or the state highway patrol will respond to an accident.
Matos said with the increased presence he wants to educate people why the Patrol is here. He said it is important to keep in mind they are partnering with neighboring communities not trying to overtake them.
Largely, the state Highway Patrol has been focusing on Akron because it is one of the most populated areas in the county. The Akron Police Department declined to comment on the state highway patrol being in the city.
Matos also hopes to better educate the community by talking with school children and businesses. He said he tries his hardest to talk to any groups of people he can whether it is at a school or a community event or meeting.
"We want to develop a relationship with students," Matos said.
He has spoken in several different schools already and is open to speak in any district and encourages them to reach out.