ASHLAND - Ashland County, the city of Ashland and the village of Loudonville are joining forces to create a formal drug task force.
The task force, which does not yet have a name, will be comprised of to two Ashland Police detectives, two Ashland County Sheriff's office detectives and one Loudonville Police detective.
While they will continue to operate under the leadership of their own agencies, all five detectives soon will work out of a common office at the Ashland Police Department. Each will be dedicated fulltime to working narcotics cases.
Detectives in the new task force will continue to work closely with METRICH as well as with the U.S. Marshals office. The task force is designed to enhance-- not to replace-- the existing Ashland County METRICH control board.
Officials from each agency hope the new setup will facilitate a greater level of communication between the agencies as they work together to combat illegal drug activity throughout Ashland County.
The news was announced Thursday in a joint press conference held in the Ashland County Commissioners' conference room.
Ashland Mayor Matt Miller said county commissioners' president Jim Justice was the driving force behind talks that began over a year ago and ultimately led to the formation of the task force.
County prosecutor Chris Tunnell said the idea of having a countywide drug task force was being discussed as early as 2001, when he first joined the prosecutor's office.
"The barriers have always sort of been money, frankly, and figuring out how we would pay for a dedicated task force," Tunnell said.
Ashland County Commissioners have committed to providing an additional $100,000 annually to provide for the salary of a second drug detective at the Sheriff's office as well as for equipment for the task force members.
The city bore no additional cost as it already had two positions budgeted for dedicated drug enforcement officers. But in order to make it feasible to have two officers dedicated to narcotics full time, the police department has had to work to hire enough new officers to replace a string of retiring ones.
Samaritan Hospital Foundation agreed to provide $25,000 for equipment for the new task force over the next three years.
Foundation President Dick Beal said the foundation is pleased to help provide funding for the task force. He also announced the foundation will be funding the revival of the 211 helpline service in Ashland.
Marcelli said while the various agencies in the county have always worked together, having the additional resources and personnel for a dedicated task force is a step forward for drug enforcement in Ashland County.
"There is no doubt that drug dealers don't know geographical or jurisdictional barriers," he said.
County Sheriff E. Wayne Risner thaked the commissioners and the mayor for seeing the value in the task force and stepping up to support it.
He also commended Ashland County Citizens to Reduce Illegal Drug Activity, the citizen committee that formed as a result of forums initially hosted by the Center for Civic Life at Ashland University. That group met monthly for a year and produced a series of recommendations to combat illegal drug use in the county.
Tunnell said Ashland County boasts one of the lowest overdose rates in the state, and the community already benefits from cooperation between law enforcement, mental health agencies and treatment providers.
"We're winning the war on drugs in Ashland County, and this will guarantee that it's going to stay that way," he said of the task force.
With so many positive things happening in the city and throughout Ashland County, Miller said, community leaders will not let the county be defined by criminal drug activity.
No official date has been set for the task force to be fully operational, but Marcelli said furniture and computers for the renovated office have arrived and training is underway.