If the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office wants to keep its four volunteer officers, the county will have to start paying into a new fund to provide for their dependents if they are killed in the line of duty.
The initial cost is $500, according to Delaware County Sheriff Russell Martin.
New state legislation requires jurisdictions using volunteer police officers to become members of a new fund, the Volunteer Peace Officers Dependents Fund. Martin and the county prosecutor’s office are working to get ahead of the curve to meet requirements before an April 22 deadline.
Martin advised county commissioners Monday of the new fund and how it will affect his office and the county.
Martin explained the background of the fund. “It came about because of a volunteer officer who was killed in the line of duty up north a couple of years ago that created a significant hardship for his family,” Martin said. “I think the legislature was well-intended.”
The fund will provide a benefit payment to survivors of volunteer police officers killed or who have become disabled in the line of duty. The law requires each jurisdiction to establish a board of five members to administer claims for benefits from the fund. Two members will be elected from the board of county commissioners, two will be volunteers who serve as police officers, and one person will be from the jurisdiction the police department serves.
Delaware County has been fortunate not to lose a volunteer officer, Martin said. “I know we’ve never had a volunteer officer disabled or killed in the county,” he said.
The bill was introduced in February 2015, was passed by the Senate and House in October, and then was signed by Gov. John Kasich on March 23.
Currently the local sheriff’s office has four volunteers who are certified law enforcement officers. They are required to work 16 hours a month. Their duties include serving court papers, assisting with traffic and crowd control at events, and being ambassadors at special events.
When volunteers are in the field, they are required to be assigned with a full-time deputy, Martin said.
Martin was only made aware of the new law a “couple of weeks ago in an email from the Buckeye (State) Sheriffs Association,” he said. He expressed concerns for smaller areas with police forces, and “are they scrambling to pull it together,” he said.
According to the law, each jurisdiction employing volunteer police officers is required to contribute to the fund. The initial premium is based on the assessed property valuation of the jurisdiction. Delaware County will be paying an initial $500 premium.
Jurisdictions that don’t have volunteers on their police forces are exempt from the fund. “I’m not completely ready to dismiss our volunteer corps yet,” Martin said.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.