By LOU WILIN
Three candidates are vying for the Republican nomination for Hancock County sheriff in the March 17 primary.
Tim Saltzman and Verl Warnimont are challenging Mike Heldman’s bid for a seventh term as sheriff. No Democrats are running.
Saltzman is director of safety and security for Arcadia Schools, a former Hancock County deputy and former force protection/counterintelligence for the National Security Agency. He also formerly was in charge of corporate safety and security for Advanced Drainage Systems.
Warnimont served as chief deputy for the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office and before that was a part-time deputy. He is owner of All Star Plumbing & Heating and The Lawft, a store specializing in supplies, equipment and tools for law enforcement.
Saltzman, 39, said he has a plan to put more deputies on the streets and prevent crime without adding expense.
He would accomplish that by offering changes in how officers are provided to schools, he said. County schools now are charged most of the expense for a school resource officer, which is a deputy. The sheriff’s office covers the rest of the cost, he said.
Saltzman wants to let schools hire their own officer, likely for less cost because retired officers would be willing to do the job, he said. Saltzman said he would assist schools in the hiring of an officer and would provide the training for the school officers free of charge.
Schools would save expense and gain flexibility, he said. Money the sheriff’s office would save would be used to create a crime prevention unit, Saltzman said.
“I can put more guys out on the road. I can do criminal mapping,” Saltzman said. “I can saturate high crime areas with these positions.”
Those same crime prevention officers would also check on the schools, he said.
Saltzman wants to bridge what he calls the sheriff’s office’s “disconnect” between the administration and other personnel, like road deputies and corrections officers.
“The union has requested more deputies because the supervisors aren’t going out and doing anything and therefore (deputies are) being overworked,” Saltzman said.
Saltzman said he would be more energetic than Heldman. He and his administrators would be out on the road more than Heldman’s regime.
“You get in front of your troops. You don’t get behind them and watch,” he said.
He said Heldman spends too much time in Columbus, being involved in state activities.
“How much tax dollars can we spend in 23 years of him going down, using tax dollars to drive down there, using tax dollars to stay overnight down there?” Saltzman said. “And how much has come back to our community? What has really changed and stood out in the last 24 years?”
Warnimont, 55, said his extensive construction business experience makes him the best candidate to help county officials consider expanding the jail or building a new one in the coming years.
He would like an expansion or a new jail to generate revenue by housing inmates from other counties. It can be done, Warnimont said, because during his years with the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office the jail there helped pay for itself.
“One of the key moneymakers for Putnam County was housing Hancock County prisoners,” he said. “Let’s make sure that this facility is large enough that we, too, can accommodate some prisoners from other counties.”
County officials also need to be careful that they will address any changes in Hancock County’s needs well into the future, Warnimont said.
“We need to allow for growth,” he said.
One of the changes county officials have been considering is expanding the existing jail, on West Crawford Street, westward into the former Parker Lumber lot.
“Will it give us enough room for 10 years? 20 years? … Is that going to accommodate our growth? Or do we need to consider a whole other location?” Warnimont asked. “That’s why I want to get in front of this and be involved in it.”
Warnimont also wants to have a more proactive patrol presence, watching for indicators of possible drug traffickers or users. It was a successful approach used in his days as chief deputy in Putnam County.
“Overall crime was down by 20 percent,” he said. “Drug and alcohol arrests were up 200 percent.
Warnimont would like to bring video and audio monitoring to sheriff’s vehicles, and to have body cameras on deputies. Body cameras offer good evidence for court cases, and boost officer safety and accountability, he said.
Heldman, 69, said he has on-the-job experience as sheriff that his opponents cannot match.
He said he also has a strong record of maintaining the safety and security of Hancock County citizens.
Law enforcement in Hancock County has progressed a lot over the past 23 years, and he has guided those improvements through cooperation with other agencies, Heldman said.
“Our latest and greatest has been the cooperation that we’re getting with the (Findlay Police Department) with the new records management system,” he said.
Since last November, the two agencies share the same records platform.
That shared records system offers both agencies a number of benefits. One is to enable the two agencies to coordinate efforts rather than duplicate each other. By seeing each other’s incident reports, each agency can recognize when it may be investigating the same “person of interest,” he said.
“This is something we have been wanting to do for a long time, but never got to that point because, for us, it was very costly,” Heldman said.
The opportunity presented itself when both the sheriff’s office and Findlay Police Department were looking at new records management systems.
“Rather than spending a million and a half dollars (for only the Sheriff’s Office), we were able to come in around a million dollars for the whole system for both,” Heldman said. “So it was a benefit for both of us.”
To boost safety and security in the schools, Heldman started a program about 2000 in which deputies are assigned to safety at a county school. Schools also have radios and a system in which they can alert the sheriff’s office of a problem by simply pressing a button.