Keeping a watchful eye

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By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Linda Dillman
Jim Bohnlein (front) and Tom Richards are part of the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Department Community Watch Program.

Citizens with a little free time in their schedule are turning those leisure hours into more boots on the ground for law enforcement throughout Canal Winchester as volunteer members of the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Department Community Watch Program.

“We know there aren’t enough deputies/officers patrolling nationwide,” said Sgt. Jesse Hendershot of the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Department. “This is a great program to help the sheriff’s office have extra eyes and ears out on the street. They help with lockouts and patrol subdivisions to keep criminal activity away. Sometimes the public feels more comfortable talking to a Community Watch member than a deputy, so they will pass along lots of good information.”

The Fairfield County program was implemented by Sheriff Dave Phalen in 2007 as an effort to engage the community in assisting the sheriff’s office. It started in Canal Winchester in 2013 with an initial class of 14 individuals.

Two city residents answered the call seven years ago, Jim Bohnlein and Tom Richards, who continue to patrol the area on a weekly basis as members of the Community Watch.

“We were looking for something to volunteer in since we had retired,” said Bohnlein. “They only asked for four hours a month and we try to give four hours a week, which is easy for us to do.”

Bohnlein and Richards training period was 10 to 12 weeks for two to four hours per session. They rode with a deputy for an eight hour shift and a community watch member for two to four-hour long shifts. Training also included first aid, self-defense, defibrillator use and traffic control.

Volunteers also learn how to help a person who is locked out of their car and how to call officers when there is a suspicious car or person.

“We are an extra set of eyes and ears for the deputies,” said Bohnlein. “We are an extra presence that I think the community and deputies appreciate. We show the flag for the sheriff. We thank kids for wearing helmets when riding bikes. We give coloring books, crayons, pencils and sheriff badges to kids with parents in parking lots. We help officers with traffic control during accidents.”

In addition to supplemental patrol duties, Community Watch members participate in various parades and community festivals, have volunteered for the Earth Angels Foundation benefitting children, and donate hundreds of hours to the community.

“Once, we helped a man by unlocking his car,” said Bohnlein. “Then he said, ‘Thanks. This is the third or fourth time I’ve had to call you.’ I told him they sell keys inside the store.”

Bohnlein said one of the biggest challenges of participating in Community Watch is listening to officers and dispatchers communicate using 100 different codes.

According to the sheriff’s department, in order to qualify for the Community Watch Program, a volunteer must be age 21 or older, a citizen of the United States, possess a valid Ohio driver’s license, pass a full background check and never been convicted of a felony.

They must also have no illegal drug use or related charges in the last five years, have the ability to deal with confidential information and keep it confidential and possess good public speaking skills.
Community Watch volunteers are required to attend 40 hours of in-service training including patrol techniques, community policing and radio procedures, as well as patrolling with deputies.

“I encourage citizens who have the extra time to apply for the program because you work hand in hand with the sheriff’s office and help right here in the community where you live,” said Hendershot. “Community Watch members also have an opportunity to help with community events such as the Labor Day Festival and the Blues and Rib Festival.”

No classes are currently scheduled and while the sheriff’s office has five applications for the program, none of them are from Canal Winchester.

“If we get a few more (applications) Sgt. Forest Cassel will start working with them to set a class up for this year,” said Hendershot. “Eleven out of 14 programs similar to the Community Watch program have shown a reduction in crime. That is our goal. If a criminal is coming into town we want them to turn around and go back to where they came from. Having deputies on the road does that, but they can’t be everywhere.”

Visit www.sheriff.fairfield.oh.us for information on the Community Watch program.

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