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Athens County Sheriff discusses his role since taking over

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Serving as Athens County Sheriff is no longer new for Rodney Smith. The law enforcement veteran has spent the last five months managing a number of initiatives.

As a leader, Smith has elected to emphasize community-policing as a way to ensure that citizens are feeling well represented. One of the goals Smith had envisioned even before being selected as Athens County Sheriff was to open up more dialogue.

“We go throughout the county, and we have neighborhood crime watch meetings, and we try to talk to the citizens and hear some of the problems that they have in their neighborhood,” Smith said. “We want to make it so that we can better address and help them solve their problems to make their community safer.”

Smith was sworn in as the interim Athens County Sheriff on Mar. 27 after the original officeholder, Patrick Kelly, was suspended by a three-judge commission.

Kelly, whose suspension came as a result of being indicted on 25 criminal counts, is still being compensated by taxpayers. Whether or not he will be responsible for repayment of those earnings from the suspension period will depend on the verdict following his upcoming trial.

Smith’s guaranteed period as Athens County Sheriff was recently extended. The Columbus Dispatch reported in July that Kelly’s trial had been pushed back to January 26, 2015 after originally being slated for this month. Smith declined to comment on anything regarding Kelly or his new trial date.

In addition to organizing neighborhood crime watch meetings, Smith has been heavily involved in addressing the issue of drug sales in Athens County.

While residents may have seen law enforcement flying overhead detecting marijuana growing operations this past summer, Smith maintains that the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations is primarily in control of that, and missions of that nature are not a priority for the Sheriff’s Department.

On the ground, deputies are focusing most of their energy toward the department’s main goal of targeting drug dealers. However, punitive measures aren’t always the sole response to these matters.

In referring to what he described as a “revolving door” effect, Smith made it clear that addicts need assistance.

“We want to bring a lot of resources to treat addicts. If we can help those who want to help themselves, we’re certainly willing to do that,” Smith said.

One of the most significant changes Smith made upon taking office was uniting with the Fairfield-Hocking Major Crimes Unit. The sheriff describes this relationship as a proven success, saying that Athens County is entitled to virtually unlimited resources in dealing with criminals.

This comes as an alternative to the NET (Narcotics Enforcement Team), of which Kelly was a strong proponent. The decision to establish a relationship with the Major Crimes Unit stemmed from the success the Sheriff’s office had when it united with the Athens, Ohio Univfersity and Nelsonville Police Departments.

Smith appreciates having a partnership with these agencies and has found great success on multiple occasions as a result of doing so.

“We had one active meth lab in Albany. At the same time, we had a report of another meth lab in Nelsonville. Since we had all of our resources tied up in Albany, we made a phone call and had people on standby ready to disassemble the one in Nelsonville,” Smith recalled. “We didn’t have those resources before.”

Smith also made it very clear that citizens of Athens County should feel like they can depend on the Sheriff’s Office at any time for any reason.

“We want to be part of the community. We want people to know they can trust us. If they have any issues, they can feel free to call us and we will be there to help with their issues, no matter what they are.”

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