Ohio troopers start 24/7 posts for largest cities

KANTELE FRANKO Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The State Highway Patrol is expanding its presence in Ohio's three largest metropolitan areas to crack down on dangerous driving with around-the-clock operations at posts near Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus for the first time in its nearly 80-year history.

Beginning June 3, the patrol will staff 24/7 operations in Hamilton, Cuyahoga and Franklin counties. As Ohio's largest population centers, those areas together have accounted for more than 170 fatal crashes in each of the past two years, or more than 15 percent of the state's total.

Drivers probably won't notice a significant change during their daily travels; the dozen or more veteran troopers assigned to each of those posts will be divided into shifts and spread out around the cities.

The move is part of a larger agency effort to more efficiently use its resources without adding jobs. Instead, it's changing its organizational structure to put more of its nearly 1,500 troopers on patrol and in the areas with the most crash fatalities and impaired motorists.

"It creates a better balance in the state, so that both geographically and service-wise, we have a better balanced organizational chart that more fits what the populations are and the travel patterns and the traffic patterns are of 2012," Col. John Born, the patrol veteran who now leads the agency, told The Associated Press.

The patrol already has posts providing full-time coverage for other urban areas like Akron, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown. Eventually, it would like to have such coverage in all 88 counties, Born said.

Born said the patrol's presence around Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus has varied over the years and done so for several reasons, including changing agency priorities and population shifts that expanded metropolitan areas, turning farmland into suburbs.

Police and sheriffs' offices used to cover the more populated areas, and the highway patrol generally monitored more rural areas. After the Sept. 11 attacks, troopers spent more time in the turf typically covered by local law enforcement because new security concerns spurred increased monitoring for hazardous materials and other potential threats.

Troopers stepped up patrols on roadways circling major cities -- such as Interstate 270 in Columbus, I-275 around Cincinnati, and I-271 and I-480 near Cleveland -- and those highways are likely to get steadier attention under the new operations, which are based in existing facilities, Born said.

Agency officials expect the changes to reduce crash fatalities and increase the results from what's known as criminal patrol, which includes drug busts from traffic stops.

"Having dedicated resources to do that, we should see those successes, we should see we are having that direct correlation," said Lt. Gary Lewis, who will have 17 officers at the Columbus post he's overseeing.

Born said the goal is to complement, not replace, local law enforcement in the cities and suburbs.

Police in the metro areas say they have strong working relationships with the patrol on a variety of security needs, from presidential motorcades to everyday traffic safety. In Cincinnati, troopers have worked with police over the past eight years to patrol the main thoroughfares and catch drivers' attention by varying the types of officers they see.

Police in urban environments can "kind of fade into the background and people don't really pay any attention to you," said Capt. Daniel Gerard, the special operations section commander for Cincinnati police. "But if you see a trooper car, which you're not used to seeing, you instantly pay attention to your speed. You look at how you're driving. So it was a way to get our motorists to be a little more conscious about what they were doing."

And there are indications it has helped, said Gerard, who has discussed the effort with local and state agencies around the country. Cincinnati had its worst year on record in 2005 with 36 fatal crashes and 40 serious injury crashes. Those figures were cut in half by 2010.

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Franko can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/kantele10.

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