Meadville Tribune

Local News

May 6, 2012

Resident leads call for more county sheriff's deputies

MEADVILLE — Should Crawford County government look at adding sheriff’s deputies?

The county has six full-time deputies and one part-time deputy — that’s the fewest number of deputies among Pennsylvania’s 24 sixth-class counties, according to John LeGuard, a county resident who spoke at a recent work session of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners.

“The Sheriff’s Department has always been overlooked (by commissioners on staffing),” LeGuard said in presenting his findings at the work session.

In April, LeGuard had questioned staffing by the sheriff’s department, but said this week his research found Crawford County had the fewest number of deputies among counties of the same classification.

LeGuard pointed out that while Crawford County has a population of 88,765 with six full-time and one part-time deputy, Indiana County with a comparable population of 88,880 has 15 full-time and one part-time deputy.

In Pennsylvania, county sheriff’s deputies are responsible for courthouse and courtroom security, prisoner transportation to and from court as well as serving court papers such as protection from abuse orders, civil court documents and bench warrants in criminal cases.

In Crawford County, while sheriff’s deputies provide courtroom and overall courthouse security, only metal detector operators control entrance/exit operations at the courthouse.

Sheriff Nick Hoke, who was at the work session when LeGuard spoke, told commissioners he’s never asked for extra staff since first taking office in January 2008, nor was he asking for additional deputies.

“I don’t plan on doing that unless I feel that the jobs that we have, that the staff isn’t adequate to take care of it,” Hoke said.

Commissioner C. Sherman Allen said there many be too many variables in trying to compare the various counties and would want more information.

“Some of the counties have different facilities and may not have everything in one building,” Allen said, noting some counties have annexes with different offices in separate buildings. Those buildings may be using sheriff’s deputies for security.

“We need to compare apples to apples, not apples to peaches,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re doing the same work.”

Allen also pointed out the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, though it has fewer deputies, may be more efficient in its operations than a county with more deputies.

“We need to be comparing everything,” Allen said. “Does that mean that maybe Indiana County is overstaffed? I don’t know.”

Hoke pointed out some counties have a certain number of deputies assigned to inmates during sentence or plea court plus one additional deputy for added security.

“The extra deputy is an extra set of eyes to watch the courtroom and the hallways so the deputies may concentrate on the prisoners,” he said.

Crawford County usually only uses two deputies for prisoners during court appearances, Hoke said.

“Would I like to have more so I’d like to think my guys are that much safer? Absolutely,” Hoke said.

Hoke gave his staff credit with the work they do.

He said deputies often are in the office early, contacting other agencies such as the county jail or state prisons to coordinate prisoner transport; or reviewing court papers to plan a route that will be the most cost-effective and quickest to serve papers.

Allen agreed.

“I think sheriff’s office has done a tremendous job,” said Allen. “But that does not mean we cannot look at it.”

Hoke said one possibility if additional staff is needed is it could be in the form of part-time deputies who could work on an as-needed basis on days there are sentencings or pleas.

However, if commissioners decide to move the courthouse’s front door security/metal detection operation to the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Office, about an additional three deputies would be required, according to both Hoke and the county commissioners.

Francis Weiderspahn, county commissioner chairman, said commissioners have not made a decision as yet on turning over courthouse door security to the Sheriff’s Office as yet but should by this summer.

Commissioners need to discuss the matter with Ted Watts, the county’s attorney, since the sheriff’s deputies and part-time metal detector operators are in separate unions, Weiderspahn said.

“We need to know the union ramifications,” he said.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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