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He's the law in Mayberry



Published: Sun, January 20, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



By NANCY TULLIS

VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU

WASHINGTONVILLE -- Police Chief J.R. Blakeman sees his adopted town as a living color version of Mayberry, and doesn't apologize when people almost always mention Washingtonville and the fictional North Carolina town in the same breath.

"When people ask what I do and I tell them, 'I'm chief of police in Washingtonville,' they laugh," Blakeman said. "They say, 'What happens there? A cow tips over?'"

Blakeman, a former Mahoning County deputy sheriff, is in his second year as chief. Running a police department on a shoestring budget offers unending challenges, but Blakeman said this community of 789 residents is a great place to live.

Blakeman doesn't see frequent comparisons of Washingtonville to Mayberry, the town of the popular 1960s sitcom "The Andy Griffith Show," as bad.

"It's a whole different world down here, and anyone who wants to see what community policing is all about should come visit us," he added.

Daily duties: Blakeman said a big part of his duties and that of his three part-time and two auxiliary officers is making checks on the community's many elderly residents. It's also not unusual for Washingtonville police to be seen helping residents carry groceries, he added.

Blakeman said he's grown fond of one couple whose health is failing. "They're going downhill fast, and that's hard to watch," he said.

Blakeman said on school days he is at Washingtonville Elementary as parents are dropping off their children.

"We have a lot of single-parent families, a lot of families in domestic turmoil," he said. "I'm usually in the cruiser or standing in front of the school. If parents show up planning to start something, it usually doesn't happen because we're there."

Traffic: He said one of the department's biggest challenges is controlling traffic through the village, because Washingtonville's main street is state Route 14.

Village officials are working with the Ohio Department of Transportation to plan for installation of a traffic light and possible turn lanes at the intersection of Route 14 and Washingtonville Road.

Blakeman said traffic studies show some 20,000 cars travel through the village on Route 14 each day. He expects traffic will increase dramatically once a Wal-Mart proposed along Route 14 on the east side of nearby Salem is built.

Mayor Michael Donnalley and other village officials and business owners have made similar comments.

Donnalley said he and Blakeman are shaking the bushes to find funding for a second police cruiser. The department has a 2001 Ford Crown Victoria in operation, but recently sold a 1992 model because it could not be repaired.

Not a speed trap: Regarding routine patrol of state Route 14, Blakeman said locals' longstanding view of Washingtonville as a "speed trap" is undeserved.

"No, we don't ticket someone going 36 in a 35 [mph] zone," he said. "You can look at the books. Compared to the volume of traffic, there really aren't that many citations."

Blakeman said the police department has struggled through some tough times over the years because of budget and staffing problems and periodic personality clashes between the police and village administration. He believes the department is now on the right track.

"We really want to emphasize community policing," Blakeman said. "We're here to protect and serve, not harass and humiliate."

tullis@vindy.com




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