Officer pulled off drug task force

Sean Joseph

The Kent State Police Department is pulling the supervising officer of the Western Portage County Drug Task Force off the undercover narcotics unit and back into uniform on campus.

Lt. William Shanafelt of the Kent State Police Department was assigned to the task force 10 years ago and has been the supervisor for nine years, he said. He has done extensive undercover work on campus and has arrested numerous students for selling drugs.

The task force has not been assigned a new supervisor, and several other departments have withdrawn their services, Shanafelt said. The department is in a time of transition, but the county is working to make sure the task force survives.

Shanafelt will be reassigned to a patrol unit on campus after this semester because the department could not afford to keep him on the task force, he said.

“The university’s budget is really bad, and the police department is affected,” Shanafelt said. “Their man power is at the bare minimum at best.”

Dan Fitzpatrick, assistant chief of the Kent State Police Department and administration director for the task force, said he plans to stay involved with the task force.

“We’ve been looking at this for the past year and evaluating our role in the task force, and we’ve concluded our officers are needed on campus,” Fitzpatrick said.

He does not know how campus will be affected without Shanafelt doing undercover work but hopes they can still have the task force working at the university, Fitzpatrick said.

“I think it’s a loss, but I think the officer is needed more on campus to provide core services,” Fitzpatrick said.

Shanafelt would not comment on how he thought the campus would be affected but supported the department’s decision to take him off the task force.

“It was a very hard decision, but it is purely economical,” Shanafelt said.

Other police departments are in similar situations and have pulled out of the task force, Fitzpatrick said. Ravenna, Brimfield and Aurora pulled their officers out last year due to staffing issues.

“The future of the task force will depend on the agencies that participate,” Fitzpatrick said. “It may or may not fold up. I don’t know.”

In the past, agencies have quit and come back again, which may be an option in the future for the university police department, Fitzpatrick said.

“It’s a real luxury that the department could afford to have me at the task force for so long,” Shanafelt said. “There is a need for a drug task force, but there is also a need for policemen in patrol cars, and budgets are really tight across the country.”

The task force is made up of officers from several departments in western Portage County, Fitzpatrick said. Participating departments appoint officers to serve as undercover agents and investigators, and the task force focuses primarily on the areas that have appointed officers.

Contact safety reporter Sean Joseph at [email protected].