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Monday, October 20, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 7/10/2014

LUCAS COUNTY

Sheriff has equipment grievances from union

More bullet-proof vests, radios, flashlights sought

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp says if deputies and officers feel they need safety equipment, he’ll provide it. Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp says if deputies and officers feel they need safety equipment, he’ll provide it.
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Union officials representing Lucas County Sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers have filed several equipment-related grievances claiming that employees are not properly outfitted for duty.

Officers have asked for various equipment, but many of the requests are for bullet-proof vests.

“It’s an overall problem for each division,” said Pat Mangold, president of UAW Local 3056, which represents the noncommand employees of the sheriff’s office.

One recent grievance, filed on behalf of all jail employees — more than 200 workers — could come with a price tag of more than $1 million.

Officers are seeking flashlights and flashlight cases, radios and radio holders, duty belts, and handcuff cases, said Kevin Helminski, director of finance and operations.

Each radio costs $5,000. Providing all of the requested equipment to jail employees would cost $6,000 to $7,000 per worker, adding up to $1.2 million to $1.4 million total.

“The logic of the claim was that the recent power outage we had showed that this stuff was necessary,” Mr. Helminski said referencing the grievance.

Power went out at the Lucas County jail in March after an underground transformer blew, knocking out power for nearly 24 hours.

Sheriff John Tharp said he had not been aware of equipment grievances, but said if deputies and officers believe they lack equipment that would keep them safe, “I’ll give them the equipment. It’s kind of a no-brainer.”

Since the sheriff took office in January, 2013, his office has purchased Tasers — which the department stopped using in 2005 — and ASPs, or expandable batons. The department also purchased more than 160 new radio batteries because the department’s previous supply of batteries didn’t hold a charge.

“Deputies need to have the tools that they need to get the job done,” Sheriff Tharp said.

The vest grievances were not filed for employees who are required to wear vests, but rather by staff who would like vests, Mr. Helminski said.

Only deputies on road patrol are issued vests, although allowances have been made for other employees based on availability.

The department, for years, received a federal grant that paid for half of a vest with the sheriff’s office picking up the other half of the tab.

In 2013, the grant requirements changed to focus on providing funds to smaller departments, which left Lucas County without funding and some officers without vests.

“We don’t have the money to do it anymore,” Mr. Helminski said.

He applied again for the grant, asking for money to fund half the cost of 192 vests, or $74,000. The grant awards are to be announced by late October.

To purchase vests for new deputies, the cash-strapped department can dip into its Federal Law Enforcement Trust Fund which, although it no longer receives deposits, has a balance of about $20,000. The federal trust fund includes cash seized during investigations, but now that the sheriff’s office is no longer represented on a federal task force, it no longer receives a cut of the cash.

The vest issue is further compounded by the rapidly approaching expiration dates on the vests, which are only good for five years.

To comply with the mandatory issuance policies, Mr. Helminski and Sheriff Tharp are looking for alternate funding.

A $68,000 Justice Assistance Grant from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee can be used for equipment. This year, $19,000 of that money was spent on the radio batteries; another $24,000 is spent every year on radio maintenance. More money was spent on the Taser purchases, Mr. Helminski said. In 2015, some of the assistance grant could be used to pay for vests.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.



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