Republican Steve Kraus told Erie County commissioners Thursday that local law enforcement agencies should immediately begin taking steps to form a task force against violence, citing Wednesday's killing and five previous murders in Sandusky this year.
"How many innocent people must die?" Kraus asked. "How much blood needs to be spilled before action will be taken? It is a crime for our county commissioners to sit on their hands and do nothing during an election season."
Erie County commissioner Tom Ferrell Jr., the man Kraus hopes to unseat, also reiterated his longstanding support for a task force, as did Huron councilman Brad Hartung, an independent also seeking to dethrone Ferrell from the seat he’s held for the last 24 years.
"Law enforcement people should come up with a bank of hours from all departments across the county,” Hartung said. “Then the municipalities and townships should pay for the equipment and help put it together. It should be (under the) sheriff's department, making it a regional collaboration."
But Erie County sheriff Paul Sigsworth said that while he appreciates the concern Kraus and others have expressed, a violent crime task force would not solve the underlying problems.
“This was a domestic violence incident,” Sigsworth said of Wednesday's murder. “The best way to deal with domestic violence is educating people and helping them find ways to escape from bad situations.”
Safe Harbor, a grant-funded domestic violence shelter that provides counseling services and referral services, has already formed a countywide domestic violence task force that meets regularly with local police departments, prosecutors and other victim advocates.
The sheriff’s annual budget is about $6 million, and every law enforcement agency must operate within its individual budget, Sigsworth said.
There is no funding source for a violent crime task force.
Besides, Sigsworth said, the sheriff's office and police departments throughout Erie County have strong mutual aid agreements and excellent cooperation already.
“We constantly discuss amongst ourselves, 'Is there anything we can do to try and prevent these issues from happening?"' Sigsworth said. "We are more than willing to do anything we can do to assist (local) agencies in the prevention of violent crime.”
That’s expected, he said.
“Our bosses are the taxpayers and they expect that you will cooperate with other agencies,” he said. “That’s the way things should be done.”
The other independent in the four-man race for Ferrell’s commission seat, Dick Brady, resisted Kraus’ demand for immediate action.
Brady and Kraus tangled previously on this same issue.
"We cannot allow these random acts of violence to define any of our communities,” Brady said. “Characterizing Sandusky as a blighted and problematic community due to a handful of incidents is to ignore all of the positive things and good people that this city represents.”
Kraus was undeterred after asking county commissioners Thursday to push forward with a new task force.
"If they won't act, I promise I will," Kraus said. "Many say, 'Sandusky is a diamond in the rough.' After yet another murder (Wednesday), many will say 'Sandusky equates to a lump of coal."'
Kraus said he'll search for federal grants and he would even ask executives representing Cedar Point or Kalahari to contribute money to the effort.
"It's in their best interest that tourists come here and don't get raped or murdered," Kraus said about local executives fronting money for a task force.