County improves its public safety capabilities

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From left, Monroe County EMA Director Ryan Weber and Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing stand next to one of the county’s three Humvees that will be used as emergency needs arise. (Alan Dooley photo)

Monroe County police and public safety agencies received a boost with the news last week of a $72,000 grant for future Monroe County Sheriff’s Department K-9 operations and the arrival of two Humvees for emergency use.

Recently sworn-in Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing also provided a “State of the Department” report to the Monroe County Board during Tuesday’s meeting.

The sheriff’s department announced Thursday that it received a $72,000 grant through the Howard Buffett Foundation for a new K-9 dog, all the training, and a 2015 fully-loaded four-wheel drive Chevrolet Tahoe that will be equipped for K-9 operations.

Howard is the son of Warren Buffett who lives in Decatur, has a farm in Christian County, and manages one of the world’s larger foundations.

The Buffett Foundation has given generously to sheriff’s departments — providing in recentyears a K-9 vehicle, motorcycle, and a law enforcement training
facility.

“He loves police and rural sheriff’s departments and realizes how they are strapped for resources
these days,” Rohlfing said, adding that the whole grant process through the Buffett Foundation happened “very quickly.”

The current MCSD K-9 dog, Sari, is turning 14 years old, Rohlfing said, and will be retiring at the end of the year.

The department’s K-9 officer, Jim Lansing, will be busy serving as lieutenant and chief deputy, so a new K-9 handler will be chosen within the department.

Rohlfing said the department will select its new K-9 dog and handler this spring, after which training will be coordinated through Vohne Liche Kennels in Indiana.

The new K-9 dog will transition in with Sari until her retirement, Rohlfing said.

Humvees

Regarding the Humvees, Monroe County Emergency Management Agency Director Ryan Weber said his office had been working on obtaining the military issued all-terrain vehicles over the past year.

One Humvee was obtained through the Law Enforcement Support Office military surplus program for free last November from Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.

On Friday, two more Humvees were obtained from Christian County in Illinois.

“They were used up there for snow storms, because their deputies had two-wheel drive vehicles,” Weber explained. “But now they all have 4x4s, so they no longer need them.”

Weber said two of the three Humvees are currently opera-tional, with a minor issue on the third vehicle yet to be repaired.

“(EMA) is planning on using these vehicles to move trailers, possibly storm-spotting, response in flooding, snow storms and other disasters,” Weber said.

The MCSD will use them for response in winter storms and other emergency situations in which the terrain is not suitable for patrol vehicles.

“It’s a good tool for inclement weather such as floods,” Rohlfing said.

The local fire departments and EMS agencies will also have access to the Humvees for response when needed, Weber added.

Both Weber and Rohlfing said the county is not stuck with the vehicles and can always take them back if they are not needed.

County board meeting

Rohlfing reported to the county commissioners Tuesday morning on his first weeks as head of county law enforcement. “Operations have been smooth,” he said, listing several recent law enforcement activities.

Rohlfing informed commissioners that he anticipates filling a full-time position in March following the retirement of Dennis Schreder, and has received a large number of applications from well-qualified police officers.

The sheriff went on to list changes he has implemented in his first weeks, starting with dividing the county into two patrol zones — north and south — divided by Route 156. Rohlfing said citizens are telling him that one result is greater visibility of patrolling officers.

Noting that Chevrolet is dropping its Impala, he said the department will soon receive two new 2013 Chevy Tahoes, which will better serve needs and have higher resale values.

The vehicles will be easier for deputies to enter and get out of, Rohlfing said, and he hopes it will reduce physical wear and tear on deputies who are burdened with heavy equipment belts and bulletproof vests.

Addressing financial issues, he said he was looking into housing a small number of federal inmates in empty cells. This will earn the county $60 to $65 per day per prisoner, he said. He also said he was exploring assigning a deputy to the Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force in Fairview Heights.

“Like it or not, we are part of the St. Louis region,” he said. “We have to be part of the big picture there. This also offers us access to a share of money and property seized in drug busts.”

Concerning the county jail facility, which was built in 1985, the sheriff discussed the need for a new roof, replacement for a 30-year-old emergency generator and significant work needed on aging remote gates that divide cell areas.

“We also need to look at courthouse security,” he said, calling for the posting of two deputies there during work hours.

The commissioners appointed a committee to review courthouse security and said they will explore his other proposals.

In other news from the meeting, commissioners approved the appointments of Nathan Brinkman of Waterloo to the Monroe County Regional Planning Commission and Mike Conrad of Columbia to the Monroe County Board of Appeals.

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