Just short of five months after being promoted to lead the Pickerington Police Department, Chief Tod Cheney met with local business officials to talk about trends and challenges faced by local law enforcement.

On March 25, Cheney was sworn in as Pickerington police chief, replacing Mike Taylor, who led the department for 16 years before stepping down amid allegations of using racist and sexist comments in front of employees.

Since that time, Cheney said, the department has been busy working to keep the community safe, including looking for new officers to replace those who recently have retired or been promoted.

On Aug. 15, Cheney sat down for a chat at the Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce's luncheon in Zion Pickerington Church, 5780 Reynoldsburg-Baltimore Road NW.

He said the department recently completed technology upgrades, including installation of a new communications system and the digitization of the department's radio room.

In terms of immediate challenges facing the department, Cheney said, officers are working to improve community relations and dispel negative perceptions about the department that can complicate efforts to keep tabs on suspicious or criminal activity in the community and hamper recruitment of new officers.

"It's something that, you know, as the chamber you could definitely help," Cheney said. "We've spoken to a couple different pastors to get some recruiting efforts in churches and maybe through the business community to help us out, and the schools.

"It's just real hard."

To that, Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce President Theresa Byers gave her endorsement of the department's leadership and rank and file and asked those in the business community to take opportunities to connect with Cheney and his officers.

She also asked chamber members to share positive experiences they have had with local police officials with others throughout the community.

"These guys are so nice and so wonderful and care passionately about our community," Byers said. "Just sharing that with others can be a huge value to them to help with that perception.

"So I would encourage everyone to meet these gentlemen and get to know them and their team because they are fabulous people who really care about this community and really care about keeping our community safe."

As part of a community-relations effort and to enhance safety, Cheney said, the department soon will increase its number of school-resource officers in Pickerington Schools' buildings within city limits.

"We've always had a school-resource officer full-time at (Pickerington High School) Central," Cheney said. "That officer and our DARE officer kind of bounce around at the schools.

"This year, we're going to be assigning an officer to every school that's within the city limits. Several times a week, those officers will be going into their particular school, making contact, being seen by the kids.

"The schools really asked us to increase our presence and we thought it was a great idea. We're going to be unrolling that here in the next couple weeks."

Cheney said another key addition to the department in recent months has been a former Violet Township Fire Department medic unit, which the police department purchased for $1.

The former medic unit has been converted into a multiuse vehicle that primarily will be used as a "mobile command unit," Cheney said.

He said it won't be used as a SWAT vehicle because the department doesn't have a SWAT team.

"We have several radios equipped in the vehicle," Cheney said. "If we have a major scene, anything -- a natural disaster, to a shooting, to a major crime scene -- we can pull that vehicle up.

"We have instant contact, communication with every department around. We have some computers set up in it."

Cheney said the truck likely will be employed at large events, including high school football games.

From the vehicle, he said, officers can monitor social media and watch for chatter about potential fights or other violent or criminal activity.

Additionally, he said, it can be used to help respond to traffic accidents or chemical spills on roadways.

He said it is capable of transporting equipment such as barricades that can help the department secure an area until ambulances or other emergency-support personnel can arrive at the scene.

In terms of criminal trends, Cheney said, the city has remained fortunate that it is not seeing many incidents of violent crime.

He said most crimes that take place are petty thefts and residents can protect themselves by removing valuables from areas of plain view in vehicles and locking doors to their vehicles and homes.

"What we try to do is put the word out there that a lot of these types of crimes can be prevented," Cheney said. "We really stress crime prevention."

Cheney also noted drugs -- including heroin, other opioids and methamphetamines -- are posing challenges.

"Everyone knows, obviously, about the heroin epidemic," he said. "We are still seeing a decent amount. We do still have some overdoses.

"What we are seeing in the drug world is a big uptick in methamphetamine again. Methamphetamine is making a big comeback in this county and surrounding counties."

Cheney said his department will continue to develop outreach programs to improve relations with the public and offer opportunities for residents to learn more about the department and help keep the community safe.

A citizens police academy that likely would entail 10 to 11 weeks of training in everything from operations to self-defense and use of firearms is expected to be made available before the end of the year, he said.

In the meantime, Cheney said, people are invited to call to make appointments with him to learn more about the department or to express concerns.

He also encouraged businesspeople and other residents to keep the department informed when crimes have been committed or they see suspicious activities.

"We jump at any opportunity to have any contact with the public," he said. "The only way we're successful ... is with the support of the community.

"By getting out, speaking, answering questions, we can only build that relationship further."

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