By Brett Milam
This is part one of a two-part interview with the Sheriff.
Clermont County Sheriff Robert S. Leahy, originally from Middletown, started in policing in 1991 and always wanted to be a policeman.
Leahy became the new sheriff on Jan. 2, 2017 after former Sheriff A.J. “Tim” Rodenberg retired. Rodenberg served for 20 years in the position.
The new sheriff’s path to the position didn’t weave its way through the roots of his family tree.
“No, no policemen in the family; my dad owned his own business and it’s a kinda weird situation, but when I was probably in the fourth grade, I saw one of the Butler County deputies at a sporting event at the high school and I knew I wanted to be a policeman,” Leahy said. “But I just kinda thought, ‘Ah, well the uniform’s kinda cool.'”
Leahy said he couldn’t really imagine doing anything else.
Originally, Leahy had sought employment in Florida.
“I wanted to be just a policeman and I wanted to be down south. I like the warm weather and the sun,” he said.
Leahy ended up back in Ohio, though, and went through the police academy in Butler County, while working at GM in security at the time; he said he was willing to work wherever with whatever department was hiring.
“You just want to be a policeman. I didn’t care if it would’ve been something small; if it had been something big,” he said. “You just wanted to get hired.”
And Leahy said he certainly never envisioned becoming a sheriff.
“I thought it might be cool some day to be a sergeant, I never ever envisioned each step. And then all of a sudden, you wake up and you get treated different and it is different,” he said.
Leahy isn’t one for the spotlight or politics; he’s not a sheriff that wants to be in the headlines, especially national ones. Nearby Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, for instance, recently made national headlines for claiming his deputies would never use Narcan, a drug that reverses a heroin overdose.
“It can be a position for your platform and I think that for me, my job is to enforce the law,” Leahy said. “A lot of my personal opinions don’t necessarily have to be reflective or not reflective of actually what the law is.”
Leahy added, “I’m pretty down the middle with things. I’m not an extreme right or an extreme left. If you talk to me and I see the common sense of it — I like to dictate by common sense. Some of the things I think become bigger than they really are. I think the wonderful thing for us is that we can always fall back on the law. That’s our reason for doing what we do. And when I start saying, ‘Hmm, well, I’m going to pick and choose,’ or ‘I’m not going to enforce this because I don’t believe in it,’ I think that’s a slippery slope.”
Personal experiences also still can dictate how a sheriff or a police chief approaches something different, too, Leahy said.
“I don’t believe you can throw everybody’s ass in jail, but I do believe that there are some people that need to be in jail and the only place for them to be actually is in jail,” he said. “There is the adage that you can’t save a person from themselves but sometimes you can put them in a limbo type of situation.”
Leahy looks at the role of the sheriff’s office rather straightforward, as it acts as essentially the “state police,” he said.
“As a county sheriff or a deputy, you can be called upon to service other counties in the state of Ohio,” Leahy said, which falls under the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association, a collection of sheriffs in all 88 counties in the state. That’s why uniforms tend to look similar across sheriff offices.
Even so, the ultimate decision still falls upon each county’s particular sheriff in what they decide to do.
“Like the RNC, when the Republican National Convention was in Cleveland, they made a request for an all-call for sheriffs to send deputies. We didn’t. I was the chief deputy at the time and I talked with the sheriff and we thought it was best not to do that,” Leahy said. “Because, number one, it’s a lot of distance and number two, we send 10 or 12 deputies up there and something breaks out, a riot or something like that, somebody gets hurt, it’s kinda hard to explain to people why we sent 12 deputies.”
On the other hand, Clermont deputies were sent to Pike County to help on the Rhoden family homicide case because Pike doesn’t have as much manpower or monies, Leahy said. Clermont deputies were there for about two weeks to help secure the crime scene and so forth.
The sheriff’s office main responsibilities within the county, however, are the courts (security and serving papers), the jail and the unincorporated area, along with a few other things, like evictions and writs of restitution, such as the sheriff’s office auctions.
Of course, the office technically has jurisdiction over all of the county, whether it’s Miami Township or New Richmond or anywhere else.
“I think communities are looking at us to create more of a well-rounded individual; you’re not just somebody who has a gun and badge and you’re expected to show up and everybody expects you to kill somebody. You’re going there and you’re trying to de-escalate things and we’re progressing with the times,” he said.
Leahy said what he tries to instill in his deputies is that we’re going to treat you professionally and with respect and if you cross the line, you’ll get pounded.
“In police work, I get asked these things quite often, about use-of-force and things like that; when we use force to affect an arrest and things like that, it’s never pretty. There’s no way of striking someone with a baton or shooting someone that looks good. It’s the last thing that any sane cop wants to do,” he said. “Of course there’s bad apples no matter what you do in life. But what people do expect is they don’t expect you to be excessive.”
Leahy continued, “Again, any rational person, a citizen in the country, wouldn’t expect police to tolerate being spit on, shot, assassinated in their cars; the same way they don’t expect police officers to shoot people in the back for no reason. It’s a weird time right now, but I think a lot of it is a real lack of communication.”
In terms of what Leahy is looking for in a deputy: “For somebody to come in here, I want somebody who is professional, has respect for people, aggressive as in the point of not being, ‘Oh I want to kick somebody’s ass,’ but aggressive that they’re looking to stop criminal activity.”
It doesn’t take much to show up to a call with a smile, Leahy added.