Thursday, July 6th, 2017
Sheriffs active in shaping new laws
By William Kincaid
When not carrying out their immediate duties, two local elected law enforcement officers are active in the Columbus-based Buckeye State Sheriff's Association, often offering input to state legislators before laws are enacted.
Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey and Auglaize County Sheriff Allen Solomon for many years have served on the nonprofit state organization of all 88 sheriffs, 2,500 sheriff's office employees and 18,000 private citizens.
"We're getting the ideas together on how we can put (legislation) together and what we can actually (enforce)," Grey said. "Sometimes legislators think they write a law and we have to do it. Well, my pushback to the legislators is, 'Just because you write it doesn't mean we're capable of doing it.' "
"You can write any law you want to, but if we're not capable of carrying it out, it's worthless," he continued.
Solomon is executive secretary for BSSA's board of directors while Grey is a past president. Both men serve on several of the group's committees.
"The association represents the interests of sheriffs and ... sheriff's office employees in front of the legislature," Grey said. "They give us advice on things that (are) going on. When there is legislation that's introduced, we have a legislative committee and we take positions on that."
For instance, BSSA was the first state law enforcement association to back concealed-carry laws, the two men said.
One reason Solomon is involved with BSSA is to communicate local needs and problems, he said.
"Nothing at all against the big counties ... but we have on the same scale per the amount of people in our county, we have the same problems they do," he said. "And sometimes, in my opinion, the rural counties - the smaller or medium-sized counties - are forgotten. And they need not be forgotten."
"It's important to have the smallest county represented and the largest, because to make things successful we have to do it as consistently as we can," Grey said.
Though opinions obviously vary among county sheriffs, they create a consensus and present a united front, Grey said.
"You need those other opinions and you need them from other sheriffs because they are in charge of their counties and you need to know what's happening in their county," Solomon said. "With that you can kind of mold or put together something, hopefully that's best for the people that live in our county also."
BSSA is working on Senate Bill 67, introduced by Senators Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, and Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green. It would create a statewide violent-offender registry. The pending bill was prompted by the murder of 20-year-old Sierah Joughin. The man charged with her murder had been previously convicted of abduction in 1990 and served three years in prison.
"It's kind of like sex offenders. Registering sex offenders doesn't really make you safe, but at least lets you know who's in the neighborhood so that you can warn your kids or your wife or whomever, 'stay away from that guy,' " Grey said.
Grey chairs the sex-offender registration and notification unit committee that has been tasked with helping the attorney general develop the statewide violent-offender registry.
Committee members must define what constitutes a violent offense and how offenders would be registered. Also, a new registry would require local manpower and additional funding, Grey said.
"We're supposed to come up with recommendations and have it back to them by the end of the year," he said. "It will go back to the legislature and then the legislature will either agree or disagree and make changes."
Aside from obviously qualifying offenses such as murder, many scenarios and concerns must be taken into consideration, Grey said.
"You have to look at things like simple assault, which is the guy that punches somebody in the nose in the bar on Friday night. Under the legal definition (it's) an offense of violence," Grey said. "Well if we start registering all of those people, can you imagine how many that's going to be across the state?"
"So we're trying to (establish) what is reasonable to register," he continued.
Grey said Montana, Indiana, Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois have such registries.
"In Montana, if you get convicted and you go on their registry, it is a lifetime registration," Grey said. "The only way to get off of it is if you petition the court ... and they have to wait at least 10 years to do it."
Reaching out to Montana officials, Grey learned about a problem they face with their registry.
"Because it's not national, if somebody moves into Montana from a state that does not have a violent offender registry, the person doesn't know they have to register," Grey said. "So it's hard to follow them."
Committee members are looking to past models such as the national sex-offender and state arson registries to make sure they don't overlook any potential issues, Grey said.
For instance, the federal sex offender registry - a tiered system with level 3 being the worst offense - doesn't always reflect an offender's exact crime.
"The problem is because of plea bargaining, somebody could commit a tier 3 offense but be a tier 1 offender because it's based on what you're convicted of, it's not based on what you did," Grey said.
"That's a difference between registering once a year for 15 years and registering every 90 days for the rest of your life. That's a pretty big deal," Grey said.
Grey also pointed to bed-ridden sex offenders residing in nursing homes.
"It's kind of hard for them to be a danger but the sheriff's office has to go to the nursing home and register them every 90 days," Grey said. "So there's quirks in it and those are some of the things with the violent offender registry that we're trying to look at and go, 'OK, let's learn from the mistakes of the past.' "
Grey and Solomon also pointed out problems in the state's arson registry established in 2013.
"No. 1, it's not a public registry," Grey said.
Furthermore, arson offenders are required only to register annually. So if an arsonist living in Celina registers with the Mercer County Sheriff's Office but moves to Wapakoneta the next week, he or she wouldn't be required to register in Auglaize County until the next year, Grey said.
"See the problem?" Solomon said. "Why have the registry?"
But state legislators can avoid such difficulties when developing the violent offender registry by seeking the guidance of BSSA before enacting the new law, Grey said.
"The difference is when they did the arson registry, somebody came up with this idea and they pushed it through the legislature without asking," Grey said.
Grey said he gives a lot of credit to senators Gardner and Hite for introducing the violent-offender registry system bill, "because they're trying to come up with the best thing that ... we can actually do."