Athens Co. Sheriff Reflects On First Year

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“It’s not a job, it’s a way of life.”

That was how Sheriff Rodney Smith described his role as he prepared to take the oath of office for the fourth time on Monday as the sheriff of Athens County.

Smith has been serving as acting/interim sheriff for the past year, having been appointed to the position when former-sheriff Pat Kelly was suspended in March of 2014.

For Smith, the fourth time taking the oath should be his last until at least 2017. Smith has stated that he will run for election as the Athens County sheriff in 2016, meaning he would be sworn in again in January 2017 if elected.

It has been a busy year, and there are no signs of things slowing down now that Smith is officially the county’s top law enforcement official for the next 20 months or so.

“Initially, when I thought about coming to the sheriff’s office, I did talk to my wife because I knew it’s not a job, it’s a way of life, so, (I’m) very much appreciative of her for her support,” said Smith, noting that the hours can be rather long.

When taking on the role of sheriff, even in the interim, Smith saw the drug problem as a key issue facing the county and began to look for resources in the fight against drugs.

“My thought was I knew we had an issue with drugs, a drug problem. I knew that if we joined resources, joined up with APD (Athens), Ohio University, Nelsonville, I thought we would get a little better, a little stronger,” said Smith.

“I think off the bat, almost immediately, we were effective with working with those other agencies,” he added.

While the sheriff’s office still has its Narcotics Enforcement Team in place, Smith said he felt it was a “natural progression” to join the Major Crimes Task Force, which includes Fairfield and Hocking Counties.

The task force provides not only money and equipment, but much-needed personnel so that deputies aren’t taken away from their other duties, he noted.

“It takes a burden off of our road patrol because they can be freed up to do other things. I really felt it was important to have deputies out there immediately,” Smith said. “They’re our first responders, so the quicker we can get to the people in Athens County the better off for the safety and wellbeing for the citizens of Athens County.”

Smith said he is proud that the major crimes unit is working in Athens County.

“…We just want to build on that and make it more effective, stronger, consistent, and we want to continually go after the drug dealers,” Smith said. “Something I want to do, and I think it’s the right thing to do, I want to help the people that are addicted to drugs. We’ll help them with programs, help them get better and I think that will benefit their families. It will take a burden off the jail system, prison system, it will just take that one person out of the equation.”

As for the administrative structure of the office or potential internal changes coming, Smith said his goal is to simply serve the citizens the best way possible.

“I put the system in place that I thought worked best. I think it’s working very well. I think we’ve had a very good year, I think we’ve had a successful year and we’ve stabilized things,” he said. “I think as far as internally, administratively we are going the right direction.”

One change was to move some funds back under control of the Athens County Auditor’s Office instead of having them in outside bank accounts. The sheriff’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund, a reserve deputies fund and the Seniors and Law Enforcement Together program were moved, according to previous Messenger reports.

Smith said he plans to continue with the neighborhood watch meetings and other programs in place when he began last year. Smith will be looking to expand to other communities as part of the neighborhood watch meetings, including Glouster, Stewart and Coolville.

“One of the things I discovered is the problems are different in each community,” Smith said. “They are different in Coolville. They are different in Albany or Glouster, so that’s why we like to have these community crime watch meetings to just find out what the issues are. It’s a lot easier to solve a problem when you know what it is.”

The sheriff’s office is also preparing to host a citizen’s academy for Athens County residents to get a glimpse of how things work in law enforcement, an existing program that Smith is continuing.

“I think they would have a better insight of what we do,” Smith said, “and maybe just to educate people in Athens County as to the law enforcement aspect.”

Smith, along with Officer Jim Childs, will be looking to begin a “Coffee with Cops” program as well, something that the Ohio University Police Department has implemented.

Asked for the most difficult part of his job in the first year, Smith was quick to respond, “Level 3 snow emergency.”

“You are pulled in all directions,” explained Smith of not only a Level 3 snow emergency, but snow levels in general. “We put a lot of thought into it, collect as much information as we can. That’s probably my most challenging situation as sheriff.”

Asked if he would consider being a multi-term sheriff if the opportunity presented itself, Smith — who had previously retired from the sheriff’s office — indicated that he would.

“I would seriously consider that because (of) what I would like to do, and what I think I could bring to the Athens County Sheriff’s Office is stability,” Smith said. “I think that in a year we have certainly, in my opinion, went in the right direction. I think if we can add some stability and accountability to the sheriff’s office and I would be willing to do that, just to add the stability factor to the sheriff’s office.”

While the sheriff’s office has been working to tackle the drug problem and better serve the residents of Athens County it remains a work in progress as far as Smith is concerned.

“My mindset is I don’t feel like I’ve ever done enough, so I want to continually work. Every day is a new day and we just want to continually get better,” said Smith.