The opioid epidemic has been expedited by the 2008 economic recession in Nelsonville. Take a listen and look through the eyes of Bennett Leckrone and I when we went to report on the Southeastern Ohio town:
Originally produced for The Athens Messenger on Nov. 12, 2018.
Horseshoes clop, clop, clop against the bricks, manes flopping with each step, as one admirer after another approaches with a question not typically asked to other law enforcement officers.
Can I pet it?
Yes, the handler tells a dozen or more every hour. Most college students steer clear of police on a night like this, but these mounted Athens Police Department units are the biggest and most popular on the block.
The mounted units are active during events expected to bring out large crowds, such as Welcome Weekend, Fest season and, of course, the annual Halloween Block Party.
“It helps a lot with crowd control,” says Athens Police Department patrolman Neal Dicken. “We are 8 feet off the ground so we can visibly see a crowd and they can see us.”
What residents and students may not know is the horses are actually owned by the officers themselves.
Dicken has been a patrolman for APD since 1997, a year after the horse units first debuted in town. He owns three of the six horses on the force and cares for them on his 62-acre farm.
In addition to their normal pay, the city pays officers like Dicken $12.50 per hour to “rent” the horses to patrol a given event. The city also pays for horseshoes and some other necessary supplies.
“The city doesn’t have the resources to own and maintain all the horses, and it also helps us offset some of our own costs of keeping them,” Dicken says. “It’s a good deal for all of us.”
While there is not a formal certification process, the city only employs horses considered well-prepared for joining the force. Dicken is one of three commissioner officers for the Buckeye Sheriff’s Mounted Association, which assesses horses through criteria such as obstacle courses, formations and handcuffing procedures.
“We’re not going to put someone, even a horse, on our street who is not prepared,” he says.
Contrary to popular belief, the department allows students to pet the horses with them if they ask. It is only a felony if someone assaults the horse.
“You do see a lot of crazy things,” Dicken says. “We have arrested people for punching and slapping the horses, but those are mostly out-of-towners. The students here know and respect us for the most part.”
In that sense, the mounted units are utilized as much to encourage positive interaction as they are for safety purposes. Such units can be seen at BBQ on the Bricks, a yearly gathering meant to bring together the OU and law enforcement communities.
Erica Pfannenschmidt, a sophomore at Ohio University, is one of the many students who made an effort Saturday night to say hello.
“It’s not as scary seeing the cops on horses,” the 19-year-old says. “Petting them is definitely a highlight of going out any weekend.”
Originally published on A1 of The Athens Messenger on October 30, 2018.
It’s difficult getting a crowd of activists to hush in solemn silence.
But that’s what happened Thursday night as senior Tori Doran recounted the night she was raped.
“My rapist stole my excitement for life,” she said in a choked voice with a megaphone in her shaky hands. “He stole my confidence, my dignity, my light.”
However, Doran said that didn’t keep her from telling her story. Her words came as hundreds of students rallied at Ohio University in solidarity following a string of sexual assault reports on and near campus.
With more than a dozen such reports made to the Ohio University and Athens police departments since the start of the academic year, frustrations and fears among many students are high. Mallory Golski, Hannah Burke and Cody Shanklin channeled those frustrations and took matters into their own hands by organizing “It’s on us, Bobcats,” a student-led rally to promote accountability and help prevent future sexual assault.
The three were inspired by the rise of activism on campus — from the banners condemning sexual assault hanging from Greek life houses to the creation of a private GroupMe chat with over 1,000 members for students to call on other females for a safe walk home, particularly at night.
A crowd of raincoat-clad students and community members gathered on College Green at 7:30 p.m. then took to the bricks of Court Street. They marched in solidarity and chanted phrases such as, “Wherever we are, wherever we go, yes means yes, and no means no.”
Following the march, the students gathered in front of Cutler Hall to hear the testaments of women who have experienced assaults while in college.
One in five undergraduate females will be sexually assaulted at some point during their education. It’s not necessarily that the problem is getting worse, Golski told the crowd, or that OU is any less safe than it was in the past.
“We are emboldening people to report,” she said. “Survivors, we will hear you. We will believe you. And we will not tolerate this any longer.”
The rain held off just long enough for the rally. As soon as the crowd disbanded, drops began to fall. Golski danced with excitement for the success of the rally, embracing her co-organizers, her sorority sisters and even Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones.
“I was assaulted a few weeks ago on campus,” said sophomore attendee Sophie Relitz. “I came because I wanted to hear from survivors. Even though it broke my heart, it felt comforting that someone understands and that so many people care.”
Speakers at the rally encouraged to keep the anger fueling them until the rape culture ends.
“This can’t be where it ends,” said Shanklin, one of the co-organizers, in an address to the crowd. “Be better activists. Be better bystanders. Be better, Bobcats.”
I finally got around to editing the footage I took of my semester studying French and media in Aix-en-Provence, France.
Check out the video of my four month adventure: