FOP nabs new home

ST. MARYS — A local law enforcement group recently moved into its new headquarters in the city of St. Marys.

The Fraternal Order of Police in Auglaize County purchased an old church building at 520 W. North St., St. Marys, to serves as its new lodge. FOP President Mark Ernst said the purchase now gives the organization a permanent home.

“We’ve been in existence since 1995 and through all those years, we’ve met in donated space,” Ernst said. “We are real tickled we have a home where we can conduct our business and be together as officers. We’ve been looking for some place for a while.”

Funding was long a hurdle for the FOP in securing a long-term home. Ernst said the group held chicken dinners, raffles and other fundraisers in an attempt to generate income to find a permanent home.

“We even worked at the recycling center,” Ernst said. “That money, we ended up investing and it was sitting there for about 12 years and it grew to the point to where we were able to afford this building and we are really happy to be here.”

Ernst said some minor issues surfaced as the FOP went through the zoning channel with the city. One resident raised a question regarding parking during meetings.

“It’s off -street parking here,” Ernst said. “And what we did was we spoke with St. Paul’s Church and they were very gracious and allowed us to use their parking lot on meeting nights and any other event that we might have, we just need to let them know in advance so it’s not a conflict.”

The FOP is involved in a handful of charitable events throughout the year. Ernst said much of what the group does involves training officers across the county.

“We sponsor training for our officers so everyone can stay up to date on what’s going on out there,” Ernst said. “We provide brotherhood where all agencies can come together and I think that fosters better cooperation as we do our jobs, which I think our communities benefit from that.”

FOP members will soon be gearing up for their annual Shop with a Cop program. The event pairs law enforcement officials with local children during a holiday shopping excursion to local retailers.

“We’ve been doing it since the beginning,” Ernst said. “We take about 90 to 100 kids shopping and spend about $100 to $150 per child.”

Ernst said the outings have two purposes — one is to get children familiar with law enforcement officials and the second is to help local families during the holidays.

“Some much of what we can do can be seen in a negative light — giving tickets, arresting people,” Ernst said. “We want the kids to see us for what we are. We are out here to help people.”

Ernst thanked the local businesses for donating to the program each year. Those interested in helping this year’s event can contact a local law enforcement agency.

“The local support has been tremendous,” Ernst said. “We have people come back and sponsor us year after year. Even when people see us shopping, they will come up  and ask what’s going on. We’ve had people give us money on the spot for the program.”

This year’s event will take place Dec. 17. Applications for the program can be picked up at any local law enforcement agency.

“It’s a tremendous feeling to help,” Ernst said. “Mostly for the children because they truly appreciate what we are doing. It puts smiles on the faces of all these guys.”