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Published: Saturday, 5/24/2008

Home invasion highlights police protection plight

BY ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

This week's assault of a University of Toledo trustee in his Springfield Township home has rekindled a persistent issue in the county - as Toledo's suburbs grow, how should the townships protect themselves?

Even though Springfield Township is larger than the cities of Maumee and Oregon, it does not have its own police department, relying instead on patrols from the Lucas County Sheriff's Office, which is charged with keeping the peace in all of the unincorporated areas in the county.

Springfield Township is the largest political subdivision in the county without its own police force. Sylvania Township, Waterville Township, and Washington Township have established police forces, which residents pay for through property taxes or other levies.

But as commercial development has followed Airport Highway and Springfield Township has grown more populous, Lucas County Sheriff James Telb said calls to the area have increased.

The township, mostly known for single-family houses, also has seen development of more apartment buildings recently - which Sheriff Telb said often are linked to an increase in crime.

"We have a lot of moderate-income residential buildings [in Springfield Township]," Sheriff Telb said.

"The density is a major factor on affecting behavior. There's bound to be interaction that turns bad."

Sheriff Telb said there have been more calls to Springfield Township as the population has grown, but he said there hasn't been a rise in violent crimes or home invasions, like Tuesday's attack on S. Amjad Hussain.

Dr. Hussain escaped his home only after he was sprayed with Mace and struck in the head with a handgun.

Nothing was taken from the home, and no arrests have been made in the case.

Following that incident, Sheriff Telb said sheriff's patrols would be increased in Springfield Township.

Currently, three sheriff's deputies patrol the township - two of which are paid for by the township, costing about $40,000 a year.

But township trustees wonder whether there is more the township could do to ensure the safety of its residents.

"The deputies that we have in the township do an excellent job. I have never heard a complaint about the service that residents receive from the deputies," said Andy Glenn, a Springfield Township trustee.

"But the problem with the sheriff's patrol is if there's a big issue anywhere else in the county, Springfield Township is left without police protection, because they all go to it."

Because of the large cost of a police department - including the salaries of officers, dispatchers, and other support staff - a new police department almost certainly would require an increase in the township's property taxes.

Sylvania Township spends nearly $7 million on 62 employees for its police department, which has been in place for decades.

"That would be difficult to pass, and it's not something that I would really want to do," Springfield Township Trustee Bob Bethel said.

A less drastic option would be to work with the nearby village of Holland to expand its police jurisdiction, possibly accompanied by a joint economic development agreement to impose an income tax on township residents.

"It might be necessary, and it might be possible that that could happen," Mr. Bethel said.

Sheriff Telb said different police departments already work together to respond to nearby crimes.

For instance, on Tuesday night two officers from the sheriff's department and two officers from Holland responded to Dr. Hussain's house within minutes.

"We have the ability to muster a lot of police in a short amount of time," Sheriff Telb said.

While township residents are mulling their options for police protection, some county officials wonder how much of the county's limited budget - the vast majority of which comes from the city of Toledo - should be spent on the outlying suburbs.

"If I was a citizen of Toledo, I might think I was paying to protect the suburbs, and I'd be right," Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said.

Most of the sheriff's budget goes toward maintaining the jail and other routine duties such as home foreclosure sales, which are mostly in the city.

Currently the sheriff spends about $3 million to $4 million a year to have about 30 deputies patrol the unincorporated areas of the county.

Mr. Gerken said the decision is up to the townships about what is the best way to protect their areas.

"Given the budget constraints that the county has, I don't see us being able to expand a whole lot with the sheriff out there," he said.

"As the townships' needs are changing, the townships are going to have to look at the level of service that they require, and what's there."

Commissioner Ben Konop said he felt the region needed to pool its resources to prevent duplication and overlap of services.

"I think in a perfect world, you'd have far fewer competing municipal township entities, and you'd probably get better service because you'd have economies of scale," Mr. Konop said.

Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said she thought Springfield Township's method - paying for additional sheriff's deputies through its general fund - could become the model for throughout the county.

By using the sheriff's department, the township is contributing to its own protection, but is not duplicating dispatcher services or other support staff.

But to many of the residents near Dr. Hussain's Manley Road home, the responsibility lies not with the sheriff or the township, but with themselves.

More than 30 Springfield and Monclova Township residents met at a Block Watch meeting Thursday night, quizzing the sheriff about how to be more vigilant and better monitor their own streets.

Pat Connelly, 70, who hosted the meeting, said he hadn't heard of any push to establish a township police force.

He noted that sheriff's patrols wouldn't be able to see behind the houses, where home burglaries most often occur.

"The sheriff's doing a good job," Mr. Connelly said.

Contact Alex M. Parker at:

aparker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6107.



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