Sheriff’s office: Portage County is safe

Michelle Park

Capt. John Ristity never leaves his doors unlocked — not even when it’s daylight.

Ristity, who has worked for the Portage County Sheriff’s Office for more than 30 years, said not locking one’s doors is “foolish.”

Keeping locks secured is one thing citizens may do to increase their security, Ristity said.

Security has become more of an issue to some area residents since a number of deaths in Portage County. In January, two Brimfield Township residents and a student were found shot to death; and last semester, two homicides occurred on Sunnybrook Road and one occurred on Lake Street.

Despite the recent murders, Portage County does not have a “terrific homicide problem,” Ristity said.

“Fortunately, what happened in Brimfield only happened once,” he said. “It was a tremendous tragedy.”

Homicides and other crimes tend to run in streaks, said Portage County Sheriff Duane Kaley.

“There are years where we may have eight to 10 homicides in a year, and then we’ll go three years where we may have one a year or none,” he said.

Student perceptions vary about the effect the incidents have had on their security.

Junior biochemistry major Shamere Ashley said she still feels safe on campus, but going off campus is now more of a concern.

“Knowing that it was so close, you always have to be cautious,” she said, noting that she now locks her car doors when she drives.

Justin Aderhold, sophomore pre-med and biology major, looks at it differently.

“I feel the same as I always did,” he said. “I’m not originally from this area. I’m from Washington, D.C., and the crime rate there is higher than here.”

For university students and community members, staying safe is about being aware, Kaley said.

“In our society today, the more alert you are, the better off you are,” he said. “There’s a lot to be said for giving thought to your protection.”

To increase residential security, citizens may install alarm systems in their houses, ensure good lighting on their property and keep shrubbery trimmed.

“If an individual is committing a crime, he’d rather do it in the darkness than (in) the light of your area,” Kaley said.

Additionally, people should watch for suspicious traffic in their neighborhoods and call law enforcement officials if they spot it.

When outside their home, citizens should park their cars in well-lit areas, Kaley said. A stroll through a county park can be made safer by bringing another person and a cell phone along. Wearing proper markings and garments is important, as well.

To stay safe while driving, a person should drive defensively, stay within speed limits and wait to drive home if he or she has been drinking alcohol, Kaley said. Avoiding distractions — such as the radio and cell phones — is also important.

On campus, students may call the campus escort service between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. to request assistance from one place on campus to another, said Interim Security Manager Brian Hellwig.

In terms of on-campus safety, however, security levels haven’t changed, Hellwig said. The university continues to employ its three-tier security system, which involves security guards, resident assistants and the university police department.

Like the university, the local law enforcement agencies are working to keep people safe, Kaley said.

“We are out patrolling on a daily basis — we try to patrol back roads, main roads to protect the people of Portage County,” he said. “(We are) trying to stop crime before it occurs.

“All of the law enforcement agencies in Portage County do their best to protect their citizens. However, we will never see zero crime.”

Contact public affairs reporter Michelle Park at [email protected].