New chief has lots of plans for village


UNION CITY, Ohio — Union City, Ohio’s new police chief is community-minded and intends to make the police department more approachable to the public, while still protecting its citizens against crime.

Police Chief Mark S. Ater Jr., since becoming chief, has even gotten a better relationship going with his department and the Union City, Indiana, Police Department on the other side of town, which is separated by the state line.

“Unfortunately, in the past there has been bad blood but both sides are working together,” he said. “The administrations bumped heads. I sat down with their administration. After that meeting, we got all the guys together at Woodcrest Lanes. I heard that was the first joint meeting of the two groups in 15 years. That was a big step. We are two different agencies but the yellow line down the middle of the street isn’t stopping crime. We are working together and I am absolutely proud of that.”

He added, “I’m all for community relations and patching holes in the departments.”

Ater, who is glad the administration on the Ohio side trusted him enough to put him in this position as chief, said the two departments are training together.

“The Indiana side has a SWAT team and some of our members are on, it including me.” he said. “I am on the paramedic side of it.”

Like other areas across the country, the chief said Union City is affected by the drug/heroin problems as well.

“And, we get all the crimes that stem off drug problems….burglarizing houses, stealing checks,” he said. “We’re relatively busy. We don’t have 24/7 coverage here right now, but it’s my goal to be able to go back to full-time officers and 24/7 coverage. It’s going to take a community to pass a levy. Our budgets are not very big.”

Since he’s worked on the department as an officer, Ater has seen a couple of stabbings as well as multiple meth labs and multiple other drug cases.

It is his plan, too, to make sure the police officers are approachable in the community.

“When I train them [the officers] and they’re with me, I do that stuff,” he said.

He has stopped to show some youth how to make paper airplanes and ended up playing Duck, Duck Goose with them. Ater has also been known to get a little boy’s bicycle fixed when the youngster had no transportation or other means to get it done. Last year, with the heat advisory, he went to the grocery and bought lots of popsicles to pass out to those who didn’t have air conditioning.

“I was on a domestic in Union City, Indiana, where there were three distraught kids,” he recalled. “If we can, we gather up the kids in domestics. I played with them on a swing set and one of them talked me into getting on the trampoline with him.

He also noted, “We still have our job to do, but this is always what I’ve wanted to do.”

He has also been writing grants.

“I look at grants all of the time,” he said “I just applied for a COPS grants to pay for another officer at a salary at the entry level for three years, but we haven’t heard anything from it yet.”

The village was awarded a $20,000 grant through the Justice Assistance Grant he wrote to get a new police cruiser however. He said he worked 3 1/2 to four weeks working on the grant to get the funding for the SUV that was purchased.

“I knew we needed a cruiser and grants aren’t guaranteed,” he said. “The cost the cruiser was $26,778, and the village had to pay $6,779 of it, but we were still able to get it under budget which was projected at $8,000.”

It’s also his goal to modernize the police department. He has redesigned the badges and the police car.

He said he was also the one who helped present the Hope Initiative for both Ohio and Indiana.

“Indiana side heard about it and we sat down and said ‘We have to do something’,” Ater recalled. “Addicts can come to the police department on either side and ask for help, We give them amnesty if they bring in needles, drugs and paraphernalia. We take them but we don’t make any arrests.”

That program began in April.

“We do the initial intake and we register them in and Wesley United Methodist Church takes over,” he said. “The addicts are sent to detox and signed up for in-patient treatment. I can’t say it works 100 percent but something has to be done. So far, we’ve probably had 12 or 15. Something has to change in the prosecution of drug traffickers.”

Ater has worked for the police department since 2009, and served as interim police chief when David McHenry went on medical leave last November. He served as that until July 5, when he was sworn in and appointed as chief.

Originally from Washington Court House, the 29-year-old has been in law enforcement since 2006, starting out at Ansonia Police Department under Chief Roy Turner.

“I started there two or three months before I turned 19,” said Ater, who has an 8-year-old son living in the Arcanum area. “My mom had to buy bullets for me.”

He worked there a year and then went to New Paris for a couple of years, just prior to coming to Union City, working under the direction of Harold Schafer. When he started, there were five full-time officers.

“I like it here,” said Ater, who graduated from Miami Trace High School in 2005 and trained at Clark Station Peace Officers Training Academy. “I joined the fire department in 2010, and I like EMS the best. I am a paramedic but was an EMT a long time. It was a long year last year when I was going through paramedic school.”

The son of Debbie Southward and Mark Ater Sr., the Union City chief, worked weekends from 2012-14 at the Union City Police Department, after his stepfather Danny Southward was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“I moved back home and took care of him so my mom could work,” said Ater, who noted that his stepfather subsequently died. “She is principal at Miami Trace Schools.”

After his stepfather’s death, he returned to Union City.

“I always wanted to be a police officer and work on an ambulance as well,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d be chief this year. But I am glad I am. I enjoy it.”

He said he and Jeff Baird are on staff, but noted that Baird is currently on sick leave.

“I have a crew of seven part-timers to help out,” he said. “They are Justin Jordan, Jeff Turner, Alan Yount, Joel Protzman, Harold Schafer Justin Hall and Jeremy Towe.”

He is currently residing in Richmond, Indiana, but plans to move to this area as soon as he can.
New police chief has lots of plan for department

By Linda Moody

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This writer may be reached at 937-569-4315. Follow her on Facebook and join the conversation and get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to

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