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Newly formed task force will protect

Local law enforcement leaders say a new state task force – formed in response to Sept.

Tuesday, October 02, 2001

Local law enforcement leaders say a new state task force – formed in response to Sept. 11’s terrorist attacks – will offer added protection in the Tri-State, even though few details of its mission exist right now.

"It will enhance the opportunities we have to make sure we’re not vulnerable to terrorist attack in Lawrence County," said Lt. Carl Roark of Ironton’s Ohio Highway Patrol post.

The statewide patrol will play a key role with the Interagency Task Force on Ohio Security – the group created Sept. 26 to protect potential targets and fight terrorism if the state comes under attack.

The chiefs of 12 Ohio agencies will join Lt. Gov. Maureen O’Connor, who doubles as the state’s director of public safety, to develop strategy, Gov. Bob Taft said.

Other members will include the directors of the departments of agriculture, criminal justice services, administrative services, health, emergency management and transportation, as well as the attorney general, adjutant general and the heads of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the State Highway Patrol and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

The agencies will share information on protection of possible targets and develop counterterrorism systems in the state, O’Connor said. The task force will hold meetings and propose anti-terrorism legislation.

O’Connor also will be the Ohio liaison to Tom Ridge, who was appointed Homeland Security director by President Bush.

There won’t be a new task force group formed in Lawrence County per se, but there will likely be local response to the state’s new plan, Lt. Roark said.

The Ironton post doesn’t yet know its specific role, just as the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department and Ironton Police Department haven’t been briefed either.

But, the aftermath of September attacks and the formation of the Interagency Task Force on Ohio Security mark a keener sense of awareness among law enforcement agencies, Roark said.

Sheriff Tim Sexton agreed, saying the new task force could prompt better sharing of information among agencies, and therefore better policing.

"Although interagency sharing has always been there, the need for it has become a little more heightened," he said.

For example, Sexton said he had just completed a survey with the Buckeye Sheriff’s Association that has a goal of listing the assets departments can share with each other in a crisis.

"This can make us more aware and more readily able to respond to emergencies," the sheriff said. "But as far as what is going to happen and what role each individual agency has (with the state task force), I don’t know."

When the information does come from Columbus, the department will be ready, Sexton said.

"Our number one concern is our county and, obviously, anything we hear we follow up on," he said. "We’re a 24-hour agency always ready to respond to an emergency."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Ironton’s role

Information about Ironton’s role with the newly-created Interagency Task Force on Ohio Security, led by Lt. Gov. Maureen O’Connor, hasn’t trickled down to the Ironton Police Department yet.

But, it will, Ironton police chief Bill Garland said.

"We know some stuff is coming in from them, and I’m sure policies will have to involve the local police," Garland said. "We have to coordinate this kind of effort, and we will."

Meanwhile, dispatchers and officers alike are becoming increasingly worried about false reports, like bomb threats or other violence threats, the chief said.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks, many people – from police departments to the public – are eying security.

"In this day and age, we’re all worried about the same thing," Garland said. "And when people give out false calls, it’s a major concern."

A false threat called in to police means officers are taking time away from other duties and risking their lives, he said.

Plus, with more people scared today than before Sept. 11, there’s a real concern that a false threat can cause someone anxiety, even a heart attack, he added.

"It should be well-advertised that this is a crime, to call in a false reports. It’s serious."