Trumbull law-enforcement disagree on how to stem drug epidemic

By Ed Runyan


The head of the organization operating Trumbull County’s largest drug-investigation unit and Warren’s police chief agree that drug abuse is a huge area problem, but they differ on how to best attack it.

While Jeff Orr, head of the Trumbull Ashtabula Group Law Enforcement Task Force, says law enforcement should disrupt drug dealing by applying pressure to drug dealers soon after neighbors report them, new Warren Police Chief Eric Merkel believes arrests and court action get the best results.

The differences in approach have become more obvious as Orr and several anti-drug agencies have their fourth anti-drug rally Sept. 21 on Courthouse Square.

TAG and the substance-abuse organization ASAP (Alliance of Substance Abuse Prevention) have had three rallies so far — June 29, July 27 and Aug. 17 — in three Warren neighborhoods. Merkel did not participate.

By the third rally, Orr and ASAP’s Lauren Thorp decided that to make an impact, they would do more than walk through neighborhoods with signs and handing out pamphlets.

They started knocking on doors asking for more tips about crime from residents.

What they heard then was similar to what they’ve heard before in Warren — that the police department doesn’t respond quickly and forcefully to drug- related offenses, so why bother?

“My thing is, you’ve got to do something different. You better disrupt it,” Orr said of drug-dealing, buying and crime associated with it. “Call the landlord. Park a police car there ... target the users.”

Orr has been working for a year on new strategies, but the effort gained new urgency early this year after a November 2012 drug- related gunbattle on a Sunday morning near several downtown churches, a day-care facility and popular restaurants.

Two men with Detroit connections are facing murder charges in the case.

Orr and Thorp are among dozens of law-enforcement officials, substance-abuse counselors and elected officials who pledged at a February meeting at the Sunrise Inn to work systematically to reduce drugs and drug-related violence.

Part of the Sept. 21 rally will be for Orr and others to unveil their new drug and crime strategies.

But new approaches won’t take root if leaders in government and education refuse to try them, Orr said.

Merkel, meanwhile, says he’s not on board with rallies, marches and disruption of drug-dealing activities because the effect is much like what happens when prostitution is attacked that way.

“We do those hooker stings,” Merkel said. “They’re right back out there the next day. What’s the long-term solution? Disrupting doesn’t solve the problem.”

Merkel said the best solution for his department is to continue to make arrests the way it does now, dropping the suspect into the court system and letting the courts handle the problem from there.

Merkel said he is making plans to participate in an upcoming program being offered by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine called “Ceasefire” that targets individuals, especially gang members, charged with gun crime.

The initiative brings together three groups — law enforcement, prosecutors and social-service agencies — which “bring a message of deterrence to the targeted offenders,” according to the attorney general’s office.

Bruce Ramey, a landlord and Washington Street Northeast resident, says he’s frustrated by the refusal of Warren police officers to respond to drug deals and prostitution complaints that he and his neighbors have made.

“They drive on,” Ramey said of city officers passing through the neighborhood in spite of what he believes are obvious crimes being committed by females getting into cars for a short drive, selling drugs at the direction of a dealer and returning to the sidewalk.

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