Thefts, fraud top Portage County crimes; drug violations rise

by MIKE SEVER | RECORD-COURIER REPORTER Published:

The 2012 annual report for the Portage County Sheriff's Department reflects a rising impact of drugs and related crimes, said Sheriff David Doak.

The report shows 217 drug offenses recorded in 2012, ranking ninth in the number of criminal offenses reported last year. Theft and fraud were at the top of the list followed by robbery, burglary and related charges.

Doak said many break-ins and thefts are related to drug abusers stealing items to sell to support their habit.

Last year the Drug Task Force raided 87 methamphetamine labs compared to 13 the year before, and saw its seizure of crack cocaine, regular cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana skyrocket. Seizure of LSD declined.

Doak attributed the rise in lab raids to more surveillance around the county. "That has been helpful," he said.

Cocaine seizures went from 141 grams to 4,252 grams (149.98 ounces --nearly 9.4 pounds) and officers seized 170 grams (5.9 ounces) of heroin last year compared to 12.75 grams in 2011.

Doak said heroin is not restricted to any one area of the county. "No, it's everywhere. It's very available, it's cheap and, unfortunately, it's highly addictive," he said.

The amount of marijuana seized or bought also went up, nearly doubling from 27,844 grams in 2011 to 46,598 grams (nearly 103 pounds) in 2012.

The unit made 132 arrests on 119 new cases, resulting in 333 felony charges and 21 misdemeanors. The unit also seized 32 firearms.

Bath salts also continue to be a problem. The unit seized 21,655 grams of the material. Doak said manufacturers change the chemical makeup to get around the laws against them.

Breaking and entering incidents increased from 68 in 2011 to 152 last year and thefts from 148 to 225. Doak said some of the difference may be due to the office switching over from an older record system to a new Computer Aided Dispatch system that slightly changes a call's category.

STILL DOAK said, "typically what's going on with the burglaries, shoplifting and paper crimes [fraudulent checks] is the result of the drug influence."

Last year the department recorded 1,576 theft and fraud cases and another 842 instances of robbery, burglary and breaking and entering.

Doak said detectives "spend an awful lot of time chasing down" stolen property. "It can be sold lots of places -- flea markets, yard sales. You'd be surprised how much goes through," he said.

The number of criminal investigations by the detective bureau increased by nearly a thousand cases, rising from 3,392 to 4,310 last year.

A total of 5,464 criminal offenses were reported last year, with theft and fraud related offenses leading the list (1,576 offenses) followed by robbery, burglary, trespass and safe cracking (842 offenses) and arson, disrupting public service, vandalism, criminal damaging or endangering and criminal mischief (614 offenses).

The total of criminal offenses reported in 2011 was 4,590.

For deputies on road patrol the busiest part of day is from about 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. when most incident reports come in. Friday is the busiest day of the week, when an average of 15.5 percent of weekly incidents are reported, followed closely by Saturday with 15.3 percent.

Doak said the information is used to guide staffing of road patrol.

"A lot of this is happening during the daytime when nobody's home. [Criminals] know that, they take advantage of it.

HE SAID residents can help ward off break-ins by using alarm systems and outside lights. "Alarms systems and cameras are the best, but that's pricey stuff," he acknowledged. Residents can also keep vehicles, outbuildings and homes locked.

"Also, report suspicious activity or suspicious vehicles," Doak said. "Anybody who comes up to your door and they don't have a good excuse as to why they're there. I would not anymore let anyone in my house to use the telephone. Everybody's got cell phones," he said.

A growing issue for the sheriff's office is overcrowding at the county jail, which booked 4,717 people last year, up from 4,584 the year before. Most of those were men but the average female population per day increased from 31 to 44 last year.

The jail is also seeing a rise in the number of inmates on prescription medications. That number nearly doubled last year, rising from 1,140 in 2011 to 2,217 in 2012.

The number of inmates on psychological medications rose from 570 to 1019, the report notes. Doak said the increase in medical is driving up the jail's budget costs, as is the rising number of female prisoners.

A committee appointed by the county board of commissioners is reviewing the future needs of the jail. Doak said he would like to see some kind of infirmary planned for any addition, "to deal with folks who have mental issues. Right now they have to be segregated and watched," impacting jail staffing.

He added a separate unit where just inmates could be put under supervision would be beneficial.

Overall, the sheriff's office investigated a total of 21,721 calls last year.

Ravenna Township was highest with 3,661 calls, down from 3,998 in 2011. Shalersville was second with 2,684 calls, up from 1,601. Franklin Township was third with 2,281 calls, down from 2,562.

Of communities without their own police force, Sugar Bush Knolls had the lowest number of calls to the sheriff's office. The village had 28 calls last year, up from 22 the previous year.

Email: msever@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-89400 ext. 4154

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