Senate candidate Matt Dolan hosts law enforcement roundtable in Columbus

By: - March 14, 2022 3:50 am

Matt Dolan, center, at a law enforcement roundtable in Columbus. (Photo by Nick Evans, OCJ.)

In Columbus, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Dolan hosted a roundtable Friday with law enforcement officials to underscore his record in the Statehouse and his plans for Washington. The Chagrin Falls senator touts his ability as finance chair to deliver funding for police training, fighting human trafficking and stemming the opioid crisis.

He, like many other Republicans running for office, also tries to takes credit for a quarter billion dollars in new funding from the American Rescue Plan. The $1.9 trillion COVID relief measure signed by President Joe Biden took effect one year ago and has served as punching bag and piggy bank ever since.

Despite sitting at the center of a table surrounded by law enforcement officials who have already endorsed him, Dolan head-scratchingly told the room he didn’t consider it a campaign event — more a free flowing discussion. What he heard were major national issues reflected through a more parochial lens.

Fayette County Sheriff, and president of the National Sheriff’s Association, Vern Stanforth complained that fentanyl is finding its way across the southern border too easily, and it’s winding up in Ohio communities.

“It’s almost become a full time job to look for trafficking,” he said. “The cartels bring it up, this is a very orchestrated event and it’s something the government has to — they have to stand up to this … and I don’t see that happening.”

He and others talked about the broader mood of police mistrust, and how it impacts recruiting and makes the job more dangerous. A number of attendees worried about school districts removing school resource officers. But when it came to accountability, the conversation remained vague.

“You don’t punish everybody for the acts of one,” Stanforth said. “And if we have bad cops, give us resources to remove those bad cops.”

Speaking after the event, Dolan echoed that rhetoric, saying, “If you’re a bad apple in any business, you should be prosecuted, and you should no longer be in the business.”

One way to root out those bad cops is better reporting and tracking of police misconduct so that officers who face discipline in one jurisdiction don’t just move on to another, but Dolan sounded skeptical of that idea.

“I don’t think the federal government needs to keep track of everybody,” he said. “You’re making a huge assumption that there are bad officers walking amongst us, that we don’t know who they are, and that’s just not the case. Because when someone does a bad act, the media is all over them, and they get prosecuted.”

Looking around the table it was hard not to notice the prevalence of law enforcement leaders elected to their post, rather than rank and file hired to their position. But Dolan insisted he’s still getting a feel for where officers stand.

“I’ve been traveling the state talking to everyone,” he said. “There is consistent message throughout, and that is we are facing a drug crisis like we haven’t faced before, (and) that there is an attitude that the police officers feel like they are the enemy.”

Still there are recent examples of Dolan being out of step with the law enforcement community.  He recently voted for SB 215 which allows Ohioans to carry concealed weapons without previously mandated training requirements. Sheriffs were largely silent on the issue—and Dolan counts a number of sheriffs among his backers. But the state fraternal order of police, patrolmen’s benevolent association and police chief’s association all lined up against the bill, worried it would make officers less safe.

Dolan defended his vote by explaining that he negotiated changes to a gun owner’s duty to inform law enforcement that they have a weapon, and removing an immunity provision.

“In the spirit of negotiating, when you get something out, you have to recognize that part of that is you have to respect the underlying bill,” Dolan explained. “And for me, it was look, in Ohio we have open carry, so if you can walk down the street with a gun on your hip, and not be in violation of law and then get cold (and) put your sweater on, you’re immediately in violation of the law.”

In terms of how he’d approach firearm policy at the federal level, Dolan’s positions aren’t as wild-eyed as some of his competitors, but they are more stringent than the vast majority of Americans according to polling by the Pew Research Center.

On keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, Dolan lands on a nuanced position. While he agreed with the idea, he said he doesn’t support judicial orders to confiscate firearms pre-emptively.

“I think someone who has been adjudicated by a doctor and a court to be mentally ill and to be violent threat to themselves or others, should (they) have their guns taken away after full due process? I’m okay with that,” Dolan said. “But if it doesn’t have due process, they have not been adjudicated, and they have not shown to be a threat to themselves or others, then no.”

When it comes to requiring background checks for private sales at places like gun shows, Dolan argued the policy probably wouldn’t work. With those changes, you’d see more illicit backroom or parking lot sales, he said.



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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.