Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (center) speaks with Van Wert County Sheriff Tom Riggenbach (right) during his visit to Van Wert County Monday. (Ed Gebert/Times Bulletin)
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (center) speaks with Van Wert County Sheriff Tom Riggenbach (right) during his visit to Van Wert County Monday. (Ed Gebert/Times Bulletin)

VAN WERT —Members of the law enforcement community in Van Wert County were given a special treat on Monday. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine visited for a roundtable discussion to talk about concerns and initiatives available for officers.

“The object is to get out and talk to law enforcement… coroners, prosecutors, sheriffs, police. We’re having meetings like this in every county we go to. It’s kind of having an exchange of information,” DeWine replied after the meeting. “My job as I see it is to work everyday to protect Ohio families. The way we do that is through working with these folks here. We supply them with help, whether it be our crime lab or the unit that comes out to do training, whether it is handling a crime scene. When they call us, we’re going to try to be there. Sometimes people don’t know exactly what we have available, so I’m trying to make sure everybody knows. But also I’m listening to them to find out what else we can do for them.”

On hand for the discussion held at the Sheriff’s Office was Van Wert County Sheriff Tom Riggenbach and Deputies Keith Allen and Dennis Wagonrod, Van Wert Police Chief Joel Hammond, Van Wert County Coroner Dr. Scott Jarvis, and Van Wert County Prosecutor Charles Kennedy III, and Assistant County Prosecutor Martin Burchfield.

“The high point point was the attorney general taking time out to meet with local law enforcement leaders in Van Wert County. He has a lot going on, and to come to Van Wert County, we really appreciate that,” Riggenbach said. “And there was some new information that will be of benefit to the Sheriff’s Office, without question.”

DeWine is touring several counties in northern and western Ohio on this trip. Besides Van Wert County, on Monday the attorney general held similar roundtable discussions in Preble, Darke, and Mercer counties. On Tuesday, the itinerary includes Defiance, Paulding, Ottawa, and Marion counties.

The discussion featured many topics, but one subject that was of key importance was that of heroin.

DeWine stated, “Heroin is in every county. Heroin used to be confined to major cities. We expect to find it in Toledo, Fort Wayne, Dayton, but it’s everywhere now. It’s in Van Wert, Mercer, in every county. It cuts across every economic group. Last year it killed close to 900 people in Ohio. We lose more people in all drug deaths in Ohio than we do in auto accidents. And there’s no easy answer.”

“It’s a big problem,” Riggenbach agreed. “So there was a lot of discussion about that. And there’s resources available to us through his office that assist us in our investigations, not just the heroin, but other drugs as well. But everybody knows that heroin is a big issue.”

DeWine admitted that he does not have all the answers, but he is seeing trends that seem to make a bit of a difference.

“If I could do one thing with a magic wand, I would have some very vigorous citizens groups in every community in the state. Everyone. And they would try to figure out what they could do to keep ‘our kids’ off of this. There’s no easy solution,” he confirmed. “We have a couple of people who go out and work with citizens groups and help them organize. People in this room aren’t going to solve the heroin problem. We can do our part, and we can do the law enforcement part. But there’s also treatment and there’s almost, most importantly, education and prevention. Stop somebody from doing that the first time, because when they do it, they have a huge, huge problem. There are horribly strong addictions, and it’s hard for people to get off it.”

DeWine cited efforts in both Union and Scioto counties that have been successful. He further stated that if there was anyone wondering about starting such a citizens group, that person should contact the Attorney General’s Office to inquire. The office can then send out with some ideas that have worked in other counties for use as ideas to begin from.

There were many other topics on the table aside from drugs. Riggenbach was happy to have had the opportunity to hear from the attorney general.

“Just being able to hear some of the things he talked about that are available resource-wise through his office that my office is able to utilize anytime that we need it is a tremendous asset to us ,and at the Sheriff’s Office we use those resources anytime we can to assist us,” Riggenbach shared. “We’ve used them on burglaries, breaking and enterings, business break-ins, things like that. They have provided a lot of service to us that has been a lot of help in investigations and helped in the prosecution sides of our cases as well. There’s a records management system through his office that we are now utilizing. We switched from the old system that we had had and went with what he provided. It’s went well for us. We’ve seen some positives come out of that.”

Keeping in contact with county officials all over the state is what DeWine credits for staying up to date with local issues.

“No, there were no major surprises in the meeting today,” he said. “But I think it’s not only important for me to meet with the sheriff, but with police officers from small jurisdictions who may never have met with me before. I want to make sure they all know what we have.”