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Illustration Credit: Sarah Olivieri

For cops, defusing arguments and unlocking cars is part of the job

On Dec. 28, two Coolville residents got into an argument about whose turn it was to pick up around the house, and someone called the sheriff’s office.

The incident was one of the 249 calls related to domestic disputes that the Athens County Sheriff’s Office received in 2016. Although fighting about chores isn’t necessarily a crime, the deputies stayed.

The two agreed to stop fighting about cleaning, according to the police report. They then began arguing about whose turn it was to pick a TV program to watch, so deputies helped them make a plan to take turns sharing the TV for the rest of the night. They agreed to get along.

Although the incident doesn’t sound much like a scene from Law and Order, Sheriff Rodney Smith said that sort of conflict resolution is part of law enforcement. 

“It’s what we do,” he said. “I would much rather we go out there before someone gets hurt and deescalate the situation.”

Domestic violence calls can be volatile — officers are more likely to be assaulted as they respond to a domestic violence call than they are responding to any other call. And even arguments about small things can have big consequences.

“I’m sure you’ve read, there’s been people killed for a piece of pie,” Smith said. “A cup of coffee. Or lunch. So we’ve gotta go make sure the situation is defused.”

He said domestic disputes often require early intervention and conflict resolution, and having deputies stay and resolve the issue is worth the extra time. 

“I don’t think it is a waste of time because I feel very strongly that the one place you have to feel safe is your home,” he said.

Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said the work police officers do to resolve non-criminal problems often goes undocumented. Agencies don’t have to write reports for incidents that aren’t criminal matters, but he said fixing those problems is still part of an officer’s job.

“The overarching goal of any law enforcement officer, the big job we’re called to do … is we’re called to restore control in people’s lives who’ve lost control,” he said.

He said he expects his officers to do the extra work like mediate arguments that aren’t quite criminal matters yet — when they have time. They don’t always, partly due to a current staffing shortage in his department.

“There are times when we just simply put a Band-Aid on things and move on to the next call,” he said.

Ohio University Police Lt. Tim Ryan said his department sometimes assists in situations where people can’t start or get into their cars, or people get lost and need directions. 

He said problem-solving is part of all policing, and those situations are other examples of the problems officers can solve.

“You know, that’s just kind of the nature of law enforcement,” he said. “When people don’t know where to turn, they usually turn to the police, and we do our best to help.”

He said more departments are playing a similar role as a way of enhancing community relations. But Pyle said that kind of police work is nothing new.

“It’s been this way for years,” he said. “It’s probably always been this way. It’s just not widely known.”


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