The AP reports that “In the ongoing financial crisis in Ashtabula County [the largest county by area in Ohio], the Sheriff’s Department has been cut from 112 to 49 deputies. With deputies assigned to transport prisoners, serve warrants and other duties, only one patrol car is assigned to patrol the entire county of 720 square miles.” And then, as reported by TTAG, the money shot: “Ashtabula County Common Pleas Judge Alfred Mackey was asked what residents should do to protect themselves and their families with the severe cutback in law enforcement. ‘Arm themselves,’ the judge said.” While the story certainly sounds compelling, and has gone out on AP, I’m a strong believer in scanning the comments section for the (often hidden) truth of the matter. Some folk agree with the judge while others see this as –surprise!– a bald attempt to restore funding to the Sheriff’s office.

So what about all of those other police departments throughout the county? Have they magically disappeared? The role of the Sheriff has been inflated by Sheriffs. The fact that the Sheriff does not know his statutory duties is a telling point. It means he has been taking on responsibilities that are not his and perhaps has been ignoring others that are.

It has been my experience that in communities with police forces, the sheriffs and deputies handle routine administrative work, like serving warrants, which is important, but not the first line of citizen defense.

The incorporated cities of Ashtabula, Conneaut and Geneva do have their own police departments and the villages of Andover, Jefferson and Roaming Shores have small police forces as well. Villages of Geneva-on-the-Lake, Orwell, North Kingsville, and Rock Creek do not seem to have their own police, probably relying on state police when necessary. None of the twenty-seven townships appear to maintain police forces either.

Ohio has been an undisputed Shall-Issue state for about six years, although a bit more restrictive than other shall-issue states, and many commentators assert that Ohioans are already plenty well-armed:

No big surprise for us folks in Ashtabula county. Most of us have been armed all our lives. Would’nt [sic] be a good idea to break into my house!

No real change since they cut all those deputies, just less of them sleeping on the job getting paid. They didn’t protect us then, we’ve been armed and ready to use since we moved here. And………make no mistake about it, come into my home uninvited, and you will be leaving in a body bag!

As the recession lingers, Ohio and many other areas are already beginning to feel the effects of budget cutbacks. I expect we’ll see all sorts of government officials arguing the relative importance of their staff and budgets. Defending self and family is certainly a valid concern, but I think the judge, who depends on sheriffs and deputies to carry out court directives, will have weakened his argument in the long run by invoking self-defense in this case.

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