The Early Days:

In the fall of 2000 Sheriff’s, Police Chiefs and Prosecutors from Fairfield and Hocking Counties came together with the shared vision of creating a multi-jurisdictional law enforcement task force.  These agency heads understood that criminals and crime was not confined to any one geographical area and that through professional collaboration they could more effectively and efficiently address the problem of drug trafficking and substance use at the local level.
Early in 2001 the group applied for federal grant monies being administered by the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services.  After receiving a US Department of Justice Edward Byrne Memorial grant award of more than $300,000 the “Fairfield-Hocking” Major Crimes Unit was born.  With Fairfield County acting as a fiduciary for the task force and the Fairfield County Prosecutors Office being designated the implementing agency the Major Crimes Unit opened its doors and began conducting covert narcotic investigations in June of 2001.  Established as a regional council of government the task force is supervised by a governing board made up of representatives from each of the political subdivisions and municipalities who participate.  Each agency Sheriff and Police Chief of the participating agencies serves on the Operating Board who is responsible for day-to-day oversight of the task force and the Commander and reports directly to the Governing Board.
MCU 2001 logo
First Badge and Logo for MCU in 2001
Upon inception the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office assigned two detectives to the project.  The Lancaster Police Department, Pickerington Police Department, Logan Police Department, Hocking County Sheriff’s Office, and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation each assigned one detective.  The Major Crimes Unit added an administrative assistant, one full time detective and the Commander John Postlethwaite a retired Columbus Police Officer rounding out the operational staff.  These early investigations were fruitful and demonstrated to the community a commitment by the participating agencies to address quality of life complaints and hold those who were engaged in the sale and distribution of drugs accountable.
Major Crimes Unit info
One of the first big seizures for the Major Crimes Unit in 2002,
75 kilos cocaine
The Major Crimes Unit continued in this structure until 2002 when the Lancaster Police Department assigned a second detective.  It was at this time that Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office assigned a third detective project.  In 2006 Commander Postlethwaite left the MCU taking a position as the Deputy Director of Ohio HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) part of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy.  Then Hocking County Sheriff’s Office Captain Eric Brown was hired as the Commander and served in that capacity until 2015.

In 2010 the task force added a single purpose narcotic detection K-9 (Brasco) increasing their effectiveness and proving an additional resource for the participating agencies.  2012 the Fairfield County agency heads understood a need for a more overt uniform presence within the task force and created the SCRAP team (Street Crime Response and Prevention) SCRAP was designed to address street level narcotic activity and quality of life complaints within the jurisdiction.  Wildly successful the SCRAP team made up of Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office, Lancaster Police Department, and Pickerington Police Department personnel continued their work side by side with the plain clothes detectives assigned to the Major Crimes Unit.  Eventually the SCRAP team became part of the Major Crimes Unit in 2014 and fell under the direct supervision of the MCU Commander.  Also, in 2014 law enforcement executives in Athens County recognized the value of multijurisdictional approaches to the problem of drug trafficking and substance use and petitioned the MCU Operating Board for membership.  The collaboration expanding to include Athens County provided greater flexibility and additional resources for all the jurisdictions involved.

In 2015 Commander Brown left his position and was hired as the Deputy Director of Ohio HIDTA.  The Major Crimes Unit found its next Commander from within the ranks of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.  Dennis Lowe who had been assigned to the task force when it was created was hired to be its next Commander bringing his thirty-one years of law enforcement experience with twenty-seven years of narcotic experience to the position.  Over the next three years the task force began a change by adding new approaches to the challenges facing the jurisdictions because of the opioid crisis.  Expanding on existing relationships and fostering new partnerships with diverse disciplines the task force began to evolve and design strategies designed to connect those with substance use disorders with available treatment and recovery options outside the criminal justice system leading to more sustainable and better long-term outcomes.  While the enforcement side of the operation evolved to include the use of technology and criminal conspiracies to remove drug traffickers and dismantle criminal organizations the task force was officially recognized by Ohio HIDTA as funded project. 

With the bulk of the Major Crimes Unit funded by two state and federal grants the Major Crimes Unit continued to identify additional funding opportunities primarily those associated with a nexus to treatment and prevention.  In 2018 that foresight was rewarded when the task force received a $498,000 federal COAP grant and a $50,000 QRT grant from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.  This grant allowed for the creation and implementation of Project FORT the task forces quick response team outreach program.  Scott Duff was hired as the program Director and immediately began expanding and building relationships with service providers and community partners focused on providing opportunities for expedited connection to treatment and recovery options outside the criminal justice system.  Additionally in 2018 the Hocking County Sheriff’s Office withdrew from the Major Crimes Unit while the Circleville Police Department petitioned for membership.  The task force continued in this configuration until the spring of 2021 when the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office joined the Major Crimes Unit.
MCU 2018 logo
New MCU logo re-designed in 2018
fort logo
Fairfield County Overdose Response Team
Project FORT became a full-time program in March 2018, however planning Project FORT started in 2016. What started small has grown into an outreach program that is now known throughout the county and throughout the state. The Project FORT team consists of the project Director who is a retired agent from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, who now has over 34 years of law enforcement experience. The team also includes one full time Community Paramedic from the Violet Township Fire Department and several full time Paramedics from the City of Lancaster. Lastly, and probably most importantly, Project FORT has two peer supporters on the team. Their role on the team is to provide valuable insight and support to the clients that we work with on a regular basis. Our peer supporters are trained as Certified Drug Counselors, and both are in recovery. It is that aspect that makes their presence on the team so valuable. They can relate to the struggles of addiction and be a positive example of what recovery looks like.  The team also has treatment providers who can respond and are available in instances where they are deemed necessary for assessment and placement.

Once the team has met with a client, their individual needs are assessed, and team members begin the process of connecting them to the appropriate in or out patient resources that are available, either within Fairfield County, or outside of Fairfield County, depending on the need. In Fairfield County, we do not have any residential treatment facilities, therefore Project FORT has also established many relationships with providers outside of Fairfield County. 

One of the keys to the success of Project FORT program has been the collaboration and partnerships with our community stakeholders.  We are extremely proud of the coalitions that we have built over the last two and a half years.  The following is a list of some of our partners that actively participate in Project FORT:

Violet Township Fire, Lancaster Fire, Fairfield County ADAMH Board, Fairfield County CommissionersFairfield County Prosecutors Office, Fairfield County Courts, Adult Probation, The Recovery Center, New Horizons, Creed of Recovery, Lancaster Recovery Services, Fairfield Medical Center, Diley Ridge Mt. Carmel Medical, Fairfield County Health Department, Fairfield Community Health, Ohio Guidestone, Care Source, Fairfield County Mental Health Consumer Group, Sun Behavioral, Ohio National Guard Counter Drug Program, Ohio HIDTA, DEA, Fairfield County 211, Fairfield County Department of Jobs and Family Services, City of Lancaster, Ohio Attorney Generals’ Office, Ohio Department of Public Safety, Faith based groups, and community members. We have also received invaluable support from the offices of former Congressman Steve Stivers and Senator Rob Portman. These groups have all committed either financial, human resources, material and other forms of support in furtherance of Project Forts mission.
Today the task force is recognized at the state and federal level as a model program for its comprehensive strategies to address drug trafficking and substance use disorders.  In addition to its work in the development of a best practices model for task force operations, its true law enforcement led deflection program and its groundbreaking use of technology in furtherance of developing complex conspiracy investigations the task force continues to set standards for excellence.  With a core value system centered around legal, ethical, professional, and moral conduct the men and women of the South Central Ohio Major Crimes Unit endeavor to set new goals and achieve even higher results which provide safety and security for the citizens of Fairfield County, Pickaway County and the City of Logan.
dewine meeting
Commander Lowe asked to join Governor DeWine in 2019.
signing of executive order creating the
Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center