With the number of deputies cut in half because of budget problems, a judge in Ohio's largest country is advising people to carry guns to defend themselves.
Ashtabula County is mostly rural and home to 100,000 people. But it is 720 square miles, the state's largest county in terms of area. Budget woes forced the sheriff's office to cut the number of deputies from 112 to 49. With deputies assigned to transport prisoners and serve warrants, there is just one radio car patrolling the vast county.
Cleveland TV station WKYC asked Judge Alfred Mackey how people should respond to the cuts and limited patrol. "Arm themselves," he said. "Be very careful and just be vigilant because we're going to have to look after each other."
He also urged neighbors to organize anti-crime block watch groups. "They have to be law-abiding, and if they are not familiar with firearms they need to take a safety course so they are not a threat to their family and friends and themselves."
The fear is that people might take Mackey's words as a call to vigilantism. But Cleveland law professor Andrew Pollis said it is clear that was not Mackey's intention. However, taken out of context, Pollis said it could be misunderstood "as a license, if you will, to engage in conduct which we as a society collectively would not want."
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Patricia Cosgrove, president-elect of the Ohio Common Pleas Judges Association, was surprised by Mackey's suggestion. "That's scary to me," she said. "I don't know what the situation in Ashtabula County is. I personally would never — that's a personal choice in terms of carrying a weapon."