Ohio eliminates security at mental health residential facilities

Monday, May 21, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Ohio officials are eliminating all security positions at the state's 10 residential facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities, citing a lack of need.

In an effort to save money and realign resources, the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities determined its 10 residential facilities can do without 30 security officers, Vicki Rich, a spokesperson for the department, told Security Director News. "The bottom line is, as far as work duties are concerned, there's very little criminal activity in our facilities and very little need for designated police positions," Rich said, referring to the positions as "police," though they were not armed and did not have arrest powers. Instead, officers spend most of their time on administrative duties and investigating "major unusual events," or MUIs, which run the gamut from investigating the reason for a resident's fall to potential instances of workplace violence, Rich said.

In the past, security officers at the facilities would respond to minor issues—Rich offered trespassing as a minor issue one facility faced recently—but any time more serious incidents occurred, the local police department was always called. That would not change, she said.

However, a local county sheriff who has one of the residential facilities in his county told a local television station that his department doesn't have the manpower to pick up the slack. "It's very helpful to have those officers at that facility," the sheriff told WSAZ NewsChannel 3.

At another residential facility in northwest Ohio, a group of concerned family and friends sent a letter to the department voicing their disapproval of the decision, according to the Toledo Free Press. "The area surrounding [the Northwest Ohio Developmental Center] is one of high criminal activity and very unsafe," the letter said, according to the newspaper. "This means that the lack of security will endanger individuals, staff and visitors."

Rich responds to the critics with a reassertion that a thorough review preceded this decision and determined the security positions were not a necessity, and that resources would be better used addressing direct care for residents.

The department has replaced the security positions with new positions at each facility that will be dedicated to administrative work and investigating MUIs, Rich said. Many of the laid-off security officers are transitioning into the new investigative positions, or in other positions within the state, she said.

The security positions are officially being eliminated on June 15, but some security employees have already begun the transition, Rich said. The decision is estimated to save the state $1.4 million per year, she said.