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POLICE Growing force focuses on details



Published: Sun, September 11, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Trustees say having Goshen patrol expand into Green Township worked out well.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

SALEM -- James Willock likes to keep it simple.

"If you enforce the little things, then you won't have the big things," he says, leaning over his desk to make his point. "That's the way we do things around here."

So far it's worked well in Goshen Township, where Willock is in his fifth year as police chief. It's also working in neighboring Green Township, which came under Goshen's protection late last year.

Green Township does not have its own police department and had historically relied on the sheriff for protection. Goshen Township, just west of Green Township, has had its own police department, though a small one, for years.

Help wanted

When financial constraints at the county level forced cutbacks in the Mahoning County sheriff's department last year, Green Township trustees looked to the west for help.

Willock said Green Township trustees weren't sure what to expect, given his department's small roster.

"They were surprised at all the technology we have here," Willock said, noting that there is a laptop computer mounted in all five of the township's police cruisers. All reports are generated and filed electronically.

Trustees from both townships signed a contract in November 2004, and Goshen began patrolling Green Township a month later.

"There were some growing pains at first," said Don Kuhns, a Green Township trustee. "But we had a couple meetings, decided who was going to do what, and it's been working out well ever since."

Enforcement

When Goshen took over providing police protection for Green Township, the department had to double in size to take on the extra area. There are now 19 officers, half of whom are assigned to Green Township.

Willock said he encourages his officers to keep a tight grip on enforcement of traffic laws in both townships. That's because both townships, even though they are rural, have had problems with rising numbers of traffic crashes for years.

There were 120 crashes in Goshen Township in 2004 and 153 crashes in Green Township. Those numbers are down this year and are projected to be cut in half by year's end.

Four of the Green Township crashes last year resulted in fatalities. So far this year, there has been only one fatal crash there. Willock likes to think that's because the increased police presence has people driving slower and with more caution.

"If we enforce the traffic laws and bring those fatalities down, then we're doing a service," he said.

The 30-year-old chief said traffic stops in both townships have resulted in finding caches of drugs and weapons in vehicles.

"People don't notice those things are going on out here," he said. "We've got to get ahead of them and stop them before they get worse."

Mixed reactions

But despite their good intentions, Willock and trustees say not everyone is wild about the job police are doing.

"We've heard a few unfavorable comments," Kuhns said, chuckling. "But they were probably people who got tickets. I'd say, by far, the majority of our people are satisfied."

George Toy, a Green Township trustee, said he's been impressed by the work of Goshen's police department and likes the way the arrangement has worked out so far.

"Goshen Township is so identical to Green Township. It was just the right fit," he said. "It's like having our own police department."

Covering the cost

Green Township signed a three-year contract for police protection and paid the first year out of its general fund. Trustees have placed a 2.1-mill police levy on the November ballot.

If it passes, the levy will bring in about $115,000 a year, which will be enough to cover the cost of the contract and lighten the load on the township's general fund, Kuhns said.

In the meantime, Willock said his officers will continue working to keep crashes and crime down in both townships. They'll also keep doing the little things, like checking in on local businesses both day and night, and looking in on homes of vacationing township residents.

"We want to be a part of the community, not just the outsiders," Willock said.

He said the department may be willing to take on other townships in the future but isn't in a hurry to do that yet.

"We're still growing, but we're not ready to grow that much right now," Willock said.

bjackson@vindy.com




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