Keith Porch

Mansfield police Chief Keith Porch (Richland Source file photo)

MANSFIELD -- Keith Porch appreciates new state grants that will allow the Mansfield Police Department to expand its gun-detection and license plate reader technologies.

But the chief also knows the technology can't replace boots on the ground when it comes to law enforcement.

"Both of these technologies are great, but really it's there to aid the officer working the street. It's a force multiplier for them. At the end of the day, you need police officers on the street, responding to these calls," Porch said Monday.

The MPD currently has 75 sworn officers, about 25 percent below its authorized strength of 102.

Gov. Mike DeWine last week announced Mansfield police would receive $272,000 in new, additional state funds -- $148,500 for its ShotSpotter gunshot detection program and $123,500 for its license plate camera system.

The funds will allow Mansfield to expand its ShotSpotter coverage area to three square miles for one year, up from the current one square mile. The department launched the technology with a pilot program a year ago and Porch said it's been a success.

It will also allow the city to add additional license plate cameras from its current eight, as well as provide funds that will allow the Richland County Sheriff's Office to purchase cameras of its own.

The technology grants are on top of three grants totaling $238,743.35 that are allowing the MPD to purchase 70 body-worn cameras, accompanying technology and a staff member to manage and process the recordings.

It's also in addition to a $250,00 state grant announced last week for the department's forensic science laboratory to help reduce a DNA backlog in its caseload.

Porch said state and federal grants are essential to his department, which remains understaffed as law enforcement agencies around the country try to fill open positions.

"I'm extremely proud of the work my staff has done the last two or three years to successfully pursue these grants," Porch said. "We have brought in, I would estimate, about $2.2 million in new grant funds.

"Normally, like the (crime) lab normally gets annual grants. METRICH gets annual grants. This is new funding. The (federal) COPS grant alone (in 2020) was $1.1 million to allow us to hire four officers. Well, that's the challenge is to hire four officers," Porch said.

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The chief said one of the body-worn camera grants included funding for an additional crime lab employee to handle the footage recorded by officers' cameras, as well as in-car cameras.

"Now you're probably asking, well, 'Why do you need that position?' So the, the equipment is not the big haul with body cams. It's the infrastructure, it's the requests. (It's handling) the public records requests from the media, from attorneys, from citizens, working with the law director and the (county) prosecutor's office," Porch said.

"So anytime that we have a public records request, that requires personnel to sit and watch the video, whether that video is four minutes or four hours," the chief said.

He said body-worn cameras may provide personal information about residents, i.e. a social security number or identities of people not involved in an incident.

"Somebody has to watch that video and redact, blur or mute sensitive information that cannot be released per the public records law. It's very time consuming.

"I would much rather have a non-sworn position doing that function than to have a sworn officer. I need my officers out on the street, not in the building redacting videos," Porch said.

Grant funding for the new position only lasts one year, according to the chief.

"The question after one year that I will have to answer with the mayor or the safety director or finance director is do we keep the position or dump it because of it being grant-funded," the chief said, adding the department may seek additional grant funds for the program.

"It's my opinion that this position is badly needed within the division to manage and to do this program correctly. I want to be as timely as I can with public records requests," the chief said.

Regarding the DNA backlog grant, Porch praised the work of Tony Tambasco, director of the forensic science crime lab, who has four decades of experience.

"I am always very proud of the work Tony has done with the lab and also his ability to secure state and federal grants to better the work done there," Porch said.

"Even when I began with this department as a young patrol officer, I have said how lucky we are to have the crime lab we do in a city and department this size," Porch said.

"Tony has done phenomenal work, efforts that were set in motion long before I came along."

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"