Saturday, November 27, 1999

Sheriffs going back to school


Classes, test required to keep jobs

BY SHEILA McLAUGHLIN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — A half dozen sheriffs around the region, including Warren County, are racing the clock to keep their jobs.

        A change in the Ohio law that increased training requirements for sheriffs left the six scrambling to attend classes since summer. Another sheriff said he didn't have time to complete the requirements and will leave office after next year as a result.

6 NEED TO BE CERTIFIED
  Six Ohio sheriffs must become certified police officers to run for re-election next year. They are:
  • Tom Ariss, 63, a retired state trooper who commanded the Lebanon post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Appointed Warren County sheriff in 1992, he hopes to run for his third term next year.
  • Ralph Lucas, 61, a retired state trooper. He is completing his first term as sheriff of Carroll County in eastern Ohio.
  • Fred Abdalla, 55, a for mer mayor and coroner's investigator, wants to run for a fifth term as Jefferson County sheriff.
  • Roy Smith, 56, a retired state trooper, has been sheriff in Lawrence County since 1993.
  • Neil Hassinger, 60, a retired state trooper, is finishing his first term as sheriff in Medina County.
  • Tom Harden, 58, started as a deputy in Morrow County in the 1960s. Since the 1970s, he has served 20 years as sheriff and now is seeking his third consecutive term.
        By the Jan. 7 filing deadline for the primary election, the sheriffs must put in more than 100 hours of class in subjects that some of them already teach at police academies. They also must pass a 200-question exam.

        All thought they were grandfathered in under the law because they were incumbents. They said they weren't notified until July that it wasn't the case.

        “It's pinch time. We all got caught with our panties down,” said Tom Ariss, a retired state trooper who has served as Warren County sheriff since 1992.

        He finished his last class Nov. 19 at the Tri-State Regional Community Policing Institute on Scarlet Oaks campus in Sharonville.

        Besides Sheriff Ariss, chief law enforcement officers in Carroll, Jefferson, Lawrence, Medina and Morrow counties have gone back to police academies to complete class requirements. Two, in more ru ral areas, are traveling extensively around the state to get in the needed hours.

        A seventh sheriff — George Smith of Hardin County — said he will be forced out of office in 2001 after 20 years because he can't complete classes by the primary filing deadline.

        With a staff of 15 deputies, Sheriff Smith patrols the roads and transports prisoners regularly. He had 440 hours of training to complete and said he just didn't have the time.

        The change in the law

        pushed him to reassess his career, he said. He has been shot and shot at numerous times, and his daughters wanted him to get out of police work.

        “Maybe it's for the best, but I don't like the way it happened,” said Sheriff Smith, who was a police officer 17 years before becoming sheriff.

        Through 1996, sheriffs needed only a certificate of training in law enforcement and had to work at least five years before filing for election as a full-time law enforcement officer.

        That changed in 1997 when legislators tightened the standards, requiring sheriffs to have a valid basic peace officer certificate, the same expected of new officers, as well as other experience to run for office.

        The sheriffs had a multitude of training hours and had spent their careers as police officers, investigators with other agencies, or state troopers.

        But the state didn't recognize that even though the 440 hours required for the peace officer certificate is about half of the training required for state troopers. All of the sheriffs, except Sheriff Smith, were given some class credit for their work in law enforcement.

        “Previously, the law said they had to have a law enforcement training certificate. That was generic. It could be anything from a report-writing course to full basic peace officer training. It was changed to make it more understandable,” said Robert Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs Association (BSSA), a statewide lobbying group for sheriffs.

        Consequently, the sheriffs have found themselves sitting in class with police hopefuls one-third their ages, and studying such subjects as crime scene investigation, drunken driving enforcement, criminal law, court procedure and cultural sensitivity.

        “The bottom line was that the legislature made the determination they would like our sheriffs to have greater qualifications than they did in the past, and they put that into law,” said Chris Davey, spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

        “Anytime you attempt to lay out new rules, sometimes it can pose problems for certain people. It's the nature of the beast.”

        Since July, legislators have discussed an emergency measure that would give the seven sheriffs until 2001 to acquire peace officer certification, but the proposal did not move forward, Mr. Davey said.

        “My understanding is ... there doesn't seem to be widespread support for it,” he said.

        But Fred Abdalla, in his fourth term as sheriff of Jefferson County, blames the BSSA, an organization to which he and the others belong.

        An extension would have applied to any candidate for sheriff, he said, and that would have widened the field of competition for the election.

        “What the sheriff's association did — and I don't appreciate it — they said: "No, we don't want that.' They want to keep people from running for sheriff. Period,” he said.

        Sheriff Neil Hassinger of Medina County has a different view, but the target of his bitterness is the same.

        “I look at it as a method for the BSSA to attempt to keep highway patrolmen from being sheriffs. Four of seven of us are highway patrol. There is a lot of jealously between the BSSA and highway patrol,” he said.

        Sheriff Ariss, a BSSA board member, said he expects the law to be amended in the future. It already faces a court challenge from a federal marshal who wants to run for Fairfield County sheriff. Filed Nov. 1, the lawsuit is pending in the U.S. District Court in Columbus.

        But, for now, he and the others have no choice except to study and hope for the best.

        “I'm not a happy camper. But you lick your wounds and get over it,” Sheriff Ariss said.

        Hoping to take the test by the end of the month, he is fighting jitters about sitting for an an exam that could strip him of his office even before the public casts its vote.

        “Can you imagine the embarrassment? I'm the sheriff and I don't want to go in and fail that,” Sheriff Ariss said, adding that he is studying a couple of hours a night to prepare.

       



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