PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio — With a party that attracts thousands of tourists on the horizon this weekend, South and Middle Bass islands’ residents and business owners brought a bevy of concerns about the Put-in-Bay police department to the village’s first public safety forum in two years.
“I can’t call you, I can’t rely on you. ... My little dog is more security than you guys,” said Emily Schanz, a Middle Bass resident. “My tax money is wasted.”
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At issue for many at Thursday’s event organized by Mayor Margaret Scarpelli and police Chief Ric Lampela was the largely inexperienced department, about one fourth of which is composed of officers in their first year of service.
Chief Lampela said in two weeks his department will lose four more seasoned officers, who will be replaced with less-experienced officers. His department is in competition with others for officers, he said, adding that he is impeded in his search by the job’s seasonality and low pay.
“I never thought I would end up completely alone as the only experienced police officer in the department,” the chief said. “I have trained these officers so well that they’re all gone.”
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He added that he planned to suggest the village promote Officer Steve Korossy to lieutenant and he would take into consideration residents’ requests that he adjust his hours to be present during the island’s busy weekend nights and early mornings.
The chief defended the officers who handcuffed Dennis Rectenwald, former Port Clinton superintendent, for exiting his car after being followed for a traffic violation. He again declined to comment on the charges filed against employees at Put-in-Bay Resort last September, saying he couldn’t comment until the cases had been adjudicated.
Many residents expressed discontent with how the department handled noise complaints, including one who said an officer responding to her noise complaint entered and left the offender’s driveway without leaving his car to handle the problem. Chief Lampela said the City Council was still revising the noise ordinance and urged the public to continue to call the police department for help addressing complaints.
Residents at Thursday’s meeting suggested turning to the county sheriff’s department for help. The chief added that he, like many other officers, will make plans to leave the island and is doing his best to leave the department in competent hands.
With reports of drug use, open containers, and parents allowing children to drive golf carts on the rise, Chief Lampela vowed that the department would return to issuing citations for those offenses.
Many other changes are in store for the department, including more meetings, training, and restructuring, the chief said. He plans to hold the public safety forum every Thursday at 6 p.m.
Put-in-Bay resident Terry Bodenbender said he applauds the police chief’s decision to resume the weekly forum, and the evening’s remarks were a good step toward improvement.
“[The police] put themselves on notice to the villagers … and now they can make progress,” he said.
Chief Lampela criticized recent press coverage about his department’s alleged misbehavior, calling it skewed and one-sided, and asked that his officers be given an objective review.
“These people are trying to learn to be police officers, and they have families that read these papers,” he said. “They’re fallible like I am, and they make mistakes, and I believe wholeheartedly that they want to learn from their mistakes.”
The village on South Bass Island is home to only about 140 residents year-round.
During the summer, however, the island’s boat-lined shores beckon 10,000 to 12,000 tourists on an average Saturday. This weekend’s Christmas in July festivities are expected to attract about 20,000 visitors.