Interview by Mary Alice Casey
‘The job of the attorney general is to assist local law enforcement — the sheriffs, police, prosecutors, and coroners — in doing their jobs. If we can help them become more effective through the tools we have, then we’re doing our job.’
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has made it a priority to assist and support the work of local law enforcement, prosecutors, and victim advocates. Here are some topics he covered during a recent interview:
On his work as a county prosecutor early in his career
“The six years I spent in the Greene County Prosecutor’s Office had a profound effect on the rest of my professional career. You see your community, your county, and the state differently after you have been a county prosecutor. Everything happening in the county comes across your desk. You see what victims have to go through. You work with them, and so you’re really impacted. That experience affected everything I’ve done in public office since.”
On his priority of protecting families
“If there’s really one theme throughout my career, it has been to try to protect families. That comes from the fact that Fran and I had eight kids; family is everything to us. But it also comes from what I saw as a county prosecutor.
“When I went to the state legislature, I wrote a drunk driving bill, really the first very tough drunk driving bill in the state. I wrote that bill after meeting the grandfather of a little 7-year-old boy, Justin Beason, who was killed in our county by a driver who had been drinking, a driver who had a previous DUI. He said, ‘Justin meant more to me than my life. I can’t bring him back. But could you do something to make sure other families do not suffer like this?’
“There’s not a day that goes by in this office that we don’t discuss how we can help protect Ohio families. That’s really the focus. Everything we do here comes under that. Whether we’re working to protect families from consumer fraud, helping local authorities get DNA evidence back more quickly, or providing relevant training at OPOTA so officers can better protect Ohio families, that’s really where we focus every day.”
On his office’s role in law enforcement
“Our role is not to be the ‘top cop’ or to step in and prosecute local cases when we’re not needed or wanted. I have a great deal of respect for local police, sheriffs, and prosecutors. And I very humbly think our role is not to get in their way and not to pretend that we’re them.
“Our job is to protect Ohio families. We do that through the good work of the men and women at the Bureau of Identification and Investigation (BCI), the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA), and the Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission (OOCIC). We provide much-needed technology with tools such as the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG). We also aid local jurisdictions by making special prosecutors available when they’re needed. All of those things help local authorities keep our communities safe.”
On BCI’s services
“We have great people who work at BCI. But it’s incumbent upon us — for their benefit, the public’s benefit, victims’ benefit, the benefit of police and sheriffs — that we are running this crime lab the best that we can. We want to make sure that we have the best knowledge, the best equipment, the best technology, the best procedures, and the best way to get quick results.
“Juries expect DNA evidence. So the demand for DNA is going up dramatically. Our job is to keep up with that demand, and we can’t accomplish that by doing things the way we’ve done them in the past. We’re going to work with the good men and women at BCI to make it the best crime lab in the country, and we’re going to work at it every day.
On OPOTA trainings
“We want to make OPOTA trainings very consumer friendly. We want to rely to a great extent on law enforcement to tell us exactly where the deficiencies are, if there are any, and what we need to do to be more helpful so that training at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy is very relevant to what people who are taking these courses face out on the street. And to do that, we’re going to rely on input, comments, and suggestions from law enforcement.”
On services to assist victims
“I learned the importance of working with victims when I was a county prosecutor. What I found was that the victims were the forgotten people in our criminal justice system. The defendant had all the rights. He had a court-appointed lawyer to defend him. He had a United States Supreme Court to outline all his rights. The trials were set at the convenience of the lawyers, the judge, and the defendant. The victim, when I started, didn’t really have any rights. A lot of that has changed.
“The Attorney General’s Office administers several programs for victims, including the Crime Victims Compensation Program, which is very significant. The Crime Victim Section also provides other services for victims, trainings for professionals who work with them, and crime prevention programs for Ohio communities. Our staff members are experts on topics such as elder abuse, missing persons, and online safety.
“Working in this area and trying to expand our services and make a difference for victims is something I care very, very passionately about.”
On the Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission
“We’re also going to put particular emphasis on the OOCIC. We want to see where the commission, investigators, members of task forces can help in regard to consumer fraud, where they can help in regard to the whole prescription drug problem. We have a huge problem with that in this state. If you look at what’s killing people in county after county, it’s the prescription drug problem. We want to use the resources of BCI to address it. We’re going to use the resources at OPOTA to train law enforcement. And we’re going to use the resources of the Organized Crime Investigations Commission to focus on it.”
On the Special Prosecutions Unit
“As a former prosecutor, I intend to put a lot of emphasis on our Special Prosecutions Unit. Local prosecuting attorneys call us when they have a conflict and need someone from the outside to come in and prosecute a case. Or they may call us if they’re a small county and have a very specialized case. The Attorney General’s Office has an obligation to be there for any Ohio county when needed. Increasing resources for Special Prosecutions is one way we can meet that obligation.”
On addressing child sex abuse
“I think the most shocking thing to me as a county prosecutor was the sex-related crimes against children. The Internet has given sexual predators more of an opportunity to prey on young victims. It’s shocking when you have an undercover agent posing online as a young girl and, within 30 seconds, there’s a guy trying to proposition her, trying to lure her someplace. So it’s certainly a big priority.”
On cracking down on consumer fraud
“We’re going to focus on consumer fraud. These are difficult cases to prosecute. Our Consumer Protection Section prepares the worst of these cases for criminal prosecution. We are going to have several of our assistant attorneys general specialize in the prosecution of these cases. They will help get the cases prepared to turn over to the local prosecuting attorney. If the local prosecuting attorney wants us to help try the case — or try a case for them — we’ll be more than happy to do that. A significant part of that is having experienced prosecutors involved in the gathering of evidence so that when we hand that case over to the local prosecuting attorney, it is a good, solid case.”
On a commitment to customer service
“I’ve always tried to have a very customer-oriented culture. I go back to my experience in the family business that my parents and grandparents ran — a small seed company in Yellow Springs called DeWine Seeds. I remember watching them worry about satisfying customers. If someone needed 20 bags of grass seed right away, we got it delivered the next day!
“So that’s my mentality. It’s a mentality coming out of that business background, where we had customers and they could go other places. So whether those we assist can go other places or can’t go other places, our job in government, it seems to me, is to provide that service. That’s what we’re going to do.”
On the personal side
Key legislative accomplishments: In a career that has included 12 years in the U.S. Senate, eight in Congress and two as a state senator, Attorney General Mike DeWine has had a long record of working with law enforcement. He was instrumental in legislative efforts to fund the national Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and the Combined DNA Indexing System (CODIS) databases, add protections for children testifying in court, and exempt current and former law enforcement officers from state laws prohibiting concealed handguns.
Proudest personal accomplishment: “My bride of more than 43 years, Frances, and I have raised eight children — Patrick, Jill, Rebecca, John, Brian, Alice, Mark, and Anna — and now are grandparents to 16 grandchildren.”
Source of motivation: “My wife and family.”
Favorite sports teams: “I’m a lifelong Cincinnati Reds fan. Some of my fondest memories are of going to their games as a kid with my dad and later taking my own kids and now grandkids to the games. Our son, Brian, is president of the Asheville Tourists minor league team. So, of course, I root for them, too.”
Book he’s currently reading: “Colonel Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris
A special cause
Mike DeWine’s concern for children and families led him to work in the U.S. Senate to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. He and Fran have traveled more than 20 times to Haiti, where they helped establish a school and feeding program named for their daughter, Becky, who was killed in a car accident in 1993.