SYCAMORE — The police department was the main topic once again at the Sycamore Village Council meeting Tuesday night, when village officials heard both complaints and praise about the officers. One man was escorted out by police after cursing at council members and the mayor.
Ronald Grandstaff, who owns property in the village, said the town is “dangerous” because there are “too many police” on patrol.
“You’ve turned this (expletive) town into a police state,” Grandstaff told village officials. “All I see is state patrol, sheriff’s deputies and you got four cops in this town.”
Sycamore Police Chief Richard Blankenship responded, “(Ohio 67) is a state route; they’re going to be driving through.’”
Village residents filled council chambers last year arguing there was not enough police presence after former police Chief Jim Brezina and all the village’s part-time and auxiliary officers resigned with no advance notice, leaving only Blankenship at the department. After adding two new officers earlier this year, residents now are complaining that the police presence is excessive.
“If you’re not doing anything wrong, then you don’t have to worry about (too many police officers),” Councilwoman Dawn Needles said.
Grandstaff was escorted out of the council meeting by police after cursing at council members and Mayor Matt Boucher.
“You better get your act together,” Grandstaff said to Boucher. “When you started making this town the laughing stock of Wyandot County, you went overboard.”
Grandstaff told both Boucher and Needles, “When you come up for election, you’re gone.”
Upper Sandusky resident Jon Hawkins complained that Sycamore police officers were “disrespectful” during a recent traffic stop.
“I told them that if they make me do a field sobriety test, I can’t do it because I’m disabled,” Hawkins said. “… They followed me to my daughter’s house and they both got out and talked to my daughter. Talk about disrespectful.”
Blankenship explained that Hawkins was pulled over because officers were investigating a call about a possible drunk driver.
“The owners of T-N-T Pizza reported that they had some guy leave there and he was very intoxicated and they were concerned about his safety and him driving,” Blankenship said. “They gave us a description of the vehicle.
“(Officers) weren’t quite sure if (Hawkins’ condition) was medical-related or not, but based off not having enough clues on their field test, they asked him where he was going and he advised he was going to his daughters’ home. After the behavior they had seen, the stumbling and stuff like that, they advised him they would follow him down to his daughter’s house to make sure he got there safely.”
The police chief said he has reviewed a video recording of the stop and the officers acted “professionally.”
“They were investigating a complaint and they made a legitimate traffic stop,” Blankenship said. “They did ask him if he had been drinking. He offered for them to do a field sobriety test. He did advise them that he had problems where he couldn’t stand on one leg and they told him they wouldn’t have him do that anyway. That’s not a problem. We just want to make sure that you are not intoxicated.”
Hawkins requested a copy of the video of the stop. Sycamore police cruisers are not equipped with video cameras, but officers wear personal cameras on their uniforms. Councilman Ralph Decker questioned the authenticity of the video.
“That recording can be screwed with; it can be edited; it can be changed,” Decker said. “… From my understanding, the kind (of camera) like (officer) Zach (Stumpf) has is readily editable.”
“If you’re willing to go that deep with it Ralph, anything can be changed,” Blankenship responded. “A recording of anything can be manipulated. … If it was edited, it would show you a date stamp on there. It would tell you when it was modified and when it was changed. You can’t change them.”
Council members viewed the video of the Hawkins traffic stop during an hour-long executive session and agreed with Blankenship’s findings that officers appropriately handled the matter.
Village officials encouraged anyone with concerns about the police department to make a formal complaint.
“We are here to address the situation, but the problem is there’s a process in place,” Councilman Anthony Flood said. “I have not seen any documents of formal complaints. I’m urging people to file a complaint. We have to have formal documentation in front of us so that we can pursue these matters.”
Not all comments about the police department were negative. Sycamore resident Linda Clark, who lives in the 400 block of Griffith Street, thanked police for their efforts to slow down speeding drivers near American Legion Field.
“I want to thank the police department for what they’ve done,” Clark said. “They really have done a fantastic job slowing (cars) down.”
Clark told council members the 15 mph speed limit signs around the park are not visible to drivers.
“One sign is on the very edge of Pemberton (Street) on the back side right before you come around the post from Pemberton onto 10th (Street),” she said. “The other one is hidden in the bushes behind a house. … There are no other speed limit signs down there. If they come down Griffith Street and go into the park, the speed limit on Griffith Street is 25 (mph). The only signs that you’ve got posted going down into the park is ‘Pick up after your dogs,’ ‘No alcohol beyond this point,’ and ‘No camping.’”
Clark said more signs are needed to slow down drivers in the area surrounding the park.
Village officials questioned whether drivers actually were speeding in the area.
“A lot of time when you are standing and you’re not a professional police officer, your clue as to what the speed is of the car that’s going by or coming at you is remarkably off,” Decker said. “I don’t know anybody other than (police officers) who can look at a car and say that car is probably doing this speed.”
Blankenship and village officials will take a radar gun to the area around the park to document how fast drivers are going.
“We’ll shoot them with the laser and see how much they’re speeding or maybe they’re not,” Decker said. “… We want (Clark) to be out there with us so (she) can look at the laser gun and see what the speed is.”
Separately, Blankenship responded to village officials’ complaints that the police department was spending too much money on fuel for its cruisers, including $481 during the month of June. The remarks were made during a finance committee meeting last week, when village officials argued that officers are using more fuel because Stumpf is volunteering as many as 20 hours per week to patrol the village. Blankenship, who was not at the finance committee meeting, said the reason for the increased fuel usage is because the department is responding to more calls, including 43 in June.
“As for the gas usage being a little bit higher in June, this resulted from the increase in cases and the department having to make multiple trips to the (Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification in Bowling Green),” Blankenship said. “The fuel budget for the police department that was addressed in my absence at the last finance meeting was in error.”
Sycamore PD responded to 170 calls in 2010 and 129 in 2011. The department already has responded to 202 calls this year, Blankenship said.
The chief explained how Stumpf’s volunteer efforts are saving the village money.
“It was my decision to utilize Officer Stumpf on volunteer hours on an ongoing investigation of a breaking and entering, two thefts and two rape cases,” Blankenship said. “The reason was to avoid myself being paid overtime to work on them, which saved the village money.”
Council members passed a motion to remove part-time Officer William Pelish Jr. from a probationary status. Pelish joined the department in January.
The village’s parks committee will meet at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 1.
Council will hold its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 14.
By CHANDA NEELY