Speeding Tickets - Putnam Sentinel
The above graph shows a trendline on the number of tickets written in 2015, 2016 and 2017 through November 30 by the State Highway Patrol (red) and the Putnam County Sheriff's Office (blue). (Graph, Putnam Sentinel/Martin Verni)

PUTNAM COUNTY — Throughout 2017, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office has emphasized roadway safety as part of a larger effort towards proactive policing. According to Sheriff Brian Siefker, Chief Deputy Verl Warnimont and Sergeant Brad Nelson, who acts as the liaison with the State’s Highway Patrol, this focus on being more active in the county is part of a larger effort to better ensure the safety of residents while deterring crime.

“In this county this year, we’ve had three motor vehicle fatalities. That’s three too many. Our goal is zero,” says Siefker. In addition, according to the sheriff’s office there has also been 73 injury vehicle accidents and 240 non-injury vehicle accidents in 2017; two fatal farm accidents; one fatal house fire; five suicides; and three to four overdose deaths (the toxicology report remains pending on the most recent fatality). Again, the goal for the county remains the same for all categories: zero.

From the perspective of law enforcement, the effort to reduce those statistics begins with an aggressive presence in the community. This increased presence can be seen in the statistics on traffic and other citations, but those numbers do not capture the interactions where no citation is given. The sheriff’s office, however, does keep track. “We give out a lot more warnings than we do citations,” says Siefker. “We wrote 110 more warnings than we did citations in the last four months.”

Just as the sheriff’s office is keeping track of the results of its efforts, so is the state. This is particularly true in regards to the grants that are awarded by the state for traffic safety, as Siefker describes, “The State Patrol is in charge of the Ohio Traffic Safety Grant. Sergeant Nelson attends a meeting every quarter. They’ll tell you, ‘If your sheriff’s office wants this grant, you better show us results.’ So it’s power driven, measurable results. You have to document how many warnings, how many stops, how many driving under suspensions, it’s to the point now that they will tell you, ‘Look there’s other agencies that want this grant. You either start showing us results, or you’re going to lose it.’”

We have a certain amount of hours we can work under the grant,” adds Nelson. “[The state] dictates the number of hours each month. Right now, we’re in the Christmas grant, they call it ‘the blitz.’ Those are set times, like December 8 through 31. There’s going to be new year’s one, and they give a certain amount of hours to that one and a certain amount of days. This is all geared towards safety.”

“They give us roughly $30,000 per year,” adds Siefker.

“We have homecoming, prom, super bowl, St. Patrick’s Day blitz, Thanksgiving, Christmas. This past year we even did a sobriety check point,” says Nelson.

To which Siefker added, “First one the county’s done in a long time.”

“First time we’ve done one in probably 20 years,” agrees Nelson.

“We had 313 cars come through that checkpoint in a matter of less than three hours,” continues Nelson. “We consider that a success because we only got one drugged driver out of that. And, the ultimate goal is none.”

“Because if you have none, you’re doing stuff right. You want to bring down the number fatal accidents, drunk driving accidents, the severe crashes, that’s the ultimate goal of this. When I go to these meetings with the Ohio State Police, it’s the first thing they talk about. They go through each county that has had fatal crashes, and discuss what they can do to change that.”

“This is all driven by safety. This is to slow people down, because speed kills, and to also bring down the number of alcohol related accidents, get people to wear their seatbelts. That’s what all this is for.”

The effort towards greater safety extends beyond more presence and activity on county roadways. Just as with the number of warnings issues and the statistics collected for the state, the sheriff’s office keeps track of the other ways that deputies maintain an active presence. According to the sheriff’s office, there have been over 6100 security checks at local businesses this year, the office has assisted other agencies 341 times, deputies have been on school detail 251 times, and there has been 33 canine demonstrations offered through the year as well. This is all in addition to the frequent service calls deputies respond to, the number of court hours worked, and how often deputies are tasked with serving papers.

Along with a great emphasis on roadway safety through the year, the sheriff’s office makes sure that its deputies are remaining as safe as possible as well. Traffic stops can be among the more dangerous activities for an officer. Any increase in enforcement also increases the risk towards deputies.

“We decided early on to get involved in Police One Academy,” say Warnimont when discussing the online training deputies are required to do. “Our activity has been up, obviously. At the same time, we’re offering and mandating that our deputies get more training.” A list of some of the courses were provided to the Sentinel, and they include several patrol and traffic stop scenarios. The courses consist of training videos interspersed with quizzes and a final test. Deputies must receive a 100 percent score on all quizzes and the final test in order to pass any given course. This helps to ensure that each road deputy is up to date on the tactics and strategies important to their own safety.

This holiday season, the sheriff’s office is also giving back to the community while reminding drivers to slow down. 50 gift cards valued at $30 a piece from a 10 different area merchants, including local businesses such as Kohls Market, Ben Breece Harley Davidson and Leipsic Village Hardware were purchased by the sheriff’s office using money raised from the annual Running with the Law fundraiser. These gift cards have been dispersed among deputies to give to residents along with a warning to perhaps drive a little slower. In this way, the sheriff’s office is providing a small measure holiday cheer along with safer roadways for everyone.