Cops seek more training money from Ohio casino tax

KANTELE FRANKO Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Police and sheriffs are fighting for greater access to a small slice of Ohio casino tax revenue that is intended for law enforcement training and has so far gone mainly to the State Highway Patrol.

Groups representing local law enforcement argue the money has been unfairly distributed, and they supported a proposed amendment to change control of that segment, which was budgeted for about $850,000 annually in the two-year state spending plan. But lawmakers kept the current disbursement setup pending a report that was called for in a previously passed casino law.

The new budget signed by Gov. John Kasich requires Attorney General Mike DeWine to consult with state and local law enforcement and produce a report on how to best distribute the money. Those recommendations now are due to legislative leaders by Sept. 1, three months earlier than the deadline listed in the casino law.

The report is required to include a recommendation for how some of the money could be shared with local law enforcement starting in the 2015 fiscal year. That doesn't satisfy police who say the fight will continue because a recommendation won't guarantee a fairer distribution of the cash.

"It's an issue of fairness, quite frankly, that everyone should be able to use this money, not just one agency," said Mike Weinman, the director of government affairs for the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio. He said the patrol's officers amount to less than 5 percent of the sworn law enforcement in Ohio.

By law, Ohio casinos pay a tax of about one-third of their revenue, and 2 percent of the tax money is set aside for law enforcement training. Most of that funding supports the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy, which offers instruction for a variety of law enforcement staff. The remaining 15 percent goes to a fund for training efforts by the Office of Criminal Justice Services in the state Department of Public Safety, with no specific direction about whom those efforts should benefit.

More than $523,000 has been deposited into that fund since the first of Ohio's four casinos opened in May 2012. Among the expenditures that most bothered the local law enforcement groups was more than $192,000 the patrol spent to rent the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington to train troopers to drive the patrol's new fleet of Dodge Chargers.

The Department of Public Safety, which includes the patrol, defended how the money was spent and said it needed access to a venue better than what it had available to train troopers for high-speed pursuits. Spokesman Joe Andrews said local law enforcement will have more access to future rounds of driver training and leadership courses funded by the casino taxes.

"It's not just for the highway patrol," Andrews said. "Almost all of these things brought other law enforcement agencies in to be trained also."

The FOP, the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police and the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association argue that the intent of the law was that all law enforcement agencies have a shot at the money for seminars and other types of training. Those groups unsuccessfully pushed an amendment that would have put the money in a fund under the umbrella of DeWine's office, with disbursements controlled by a commission that considers training reimbursement requests and includes police, sheriffs and the patrol's superintendent.

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