Task force making a difference

BELMONT COUNTY – The Drug Task Force has been working nonstop to clean up the streets of Belmont County since its creation in 2008.

It originally started during a monthly chief meeting, where the police chiefs from Belmont County along the prosecutor and the sheriff meet.

“In one of our monthly chiefs meetings, the idea was brought out that instead of everybody working on their own to battle this problem with drug trafficking, what if we all worked together and that was based on our belief that we could accomplish so much more by working together,” said Belmont County Prosecutor Chris Berhalter.

Berhalter went on to say that the results in the last five years have been noticeable and shown that creating this task force was the right thing to do.

“For what they have accomplished in the last five years is nothing short of amazing, that they are making a real difference in our community,” said Berhalter.

Drug trafficking is the movement of an illegal drugs with the intent to sell, distribute or deliver. With drug trafficking comes several other crimes such as breaking and entering, burglaries and assaults and thief.

By having a task force that is attacking the problem head on, there is less of a chance for these crimes to become a bigger problem for police forces in Belmont County.

The group researched and found that it was possible to create a county-wide entity that could come together and combat the drug trafficking issues in Belmont County rather then each individual agencies all fighting the same issues. An agreement was drafted where any officers from any Belmont County could join this organization and was presented to the police chiefs, the sheriff at the time and village councils and mayors for their approval. The agreement was widely accepted by everyone.

“We were very grateful for the unanimous support from all the towns and law enforcement for their eagerness to join and be apart of this project,” said Berhalter.

In 2008, mayors and police chiefs from Powhatan, Shadyside, Bellaire, Bridgeport, Martins Ferry and St. Clairsville, Bethesda, the Sheriffs department and the Belmont County Prosecuting Attorneys office all entered into an agreement where an office from each police department will participate in the Drug Task Force. Every police chief, the sheriff and Berhalter sit on a board that oversees the task force. The officers that join the task force still belong to their original police force.

The first Drug Task Force Commander was Bethesda Police Chief Tim Zdanski who passed away in July.

“(Zdanski) showed a willingness to be involved and to work with the officers. He was also relentless in finding funding sources, being personally responsible for the Drug Task Force obtaining several grants. He did an outstanding job in that role,” said Berhalter.

After the passing of Zdanski, Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland took over as Drug Task Force Commander. McFarland is well aware that he has very be shoes to fill. But according to Berhalter, he has done an outstanding job and applauds him for his efforts.

“(The task force) have been so successful because the officers on the Drug Task Force are dedicated, extremely hardworking and want to make a real difference in the community,” said Berhalter. “But what’s not to be overlooked is the if it were not for the support of every village or city and allowing their officer to participate, the Drug Task Force would have never had the chance to be successful.”

The first Drug Task Force commander was former Bethesda Police Chief Tim Zdanski. Zdanski passed away in July.

Van Dyne may be reached at kvandyne@timesleaderonline.com