BROOKVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – When Governor Tom Wolf included a proposal in his budget earlier this year to charge residents for state police protection in municipalities without their own forces, it drew quick criticism from some and got others thinking about an alternative plan.
A few weeks after the proposal, House Bill 466 was introduced. It is an Act that would amend Title 42 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, in officers serving process and enforcing orders, further providing for powers and duties of the sheriff.
In Jefferson County, Sheriff Carl Gotwald, (pictured above), would love to see his deputies have expanded powers.
“For one, I don’t know how we lost it in the first place, and ever since, when the idea is floated, it doesn’t get too far,” Gotwald told exploreJeffersonpa.com.
Gotwald heads a department of 12, including six full-time deputies and one part-time deputy, as well as those who work at the DuBois Regional Airport and supervise the Orange Patrol that performs community service.
He stated that some of his deputies are already part-time officers with other borough departments or are detectives in the DA’s office in the county.
“It’d be nice if our guys didn’t have to change hats to investigate a crime,” Gotwald said. “Right now, if someone called about a crime that had occurred, we can’t go investigate. We have to physically see a crime before we could take action and make an arrest.”
“We aren’t trying to take anyone’s jobs, we just want to help.”
According to Gotwald, his deputies transport prisoners from the county jail to their respective court hearings and also serve warrants on those who are wanted for crimes.
They can also be involved with DUI checkpoints, but a municipal or state police officer has to be there.
Gotwald has heard the concerns about other police departments being concerned about losing positions if the sheriff’s department has full police powers.
“It doesn’t add up because in Allegheny County, their sheriff’s deputies have full powers, and it hasn’t been a problem there. There is plenty of work to go around,” Gotwald said. “Around here, there is plenty of work. Most of the borough departments in Jefferson County are pretty small, like Brockway, Reynoldsville, Sykesville.”
“There isn’t one department in the county that isn’t happy to see us backing them up at a call,” Gotwald said. “We have the same standards and training that officers in municipal police departments have.”
He explained that when deputies are transporting prisoners or serving warrants, the sheriff department’s policy is to back up other municipal officers.
“When we are serving bench warrants, we see things and go places where most others don’t,” Gotwald said.
The department is also in charge of security at the courthouse and runs the annual firearms recertification for municipal law officers.
“We do day and night training shooting, so officers are better prepared to handle things when the scene is chaotic,” Gotwald said.
(In the photo above, Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff Dean Smith monitors the video screen that shows various areas in the courthouse.)
Despite the resistance in some quarters to expanding powers to sheriff’s deputies, Gotwald said he is hearing good things this time.
“From some in the Sheriff’s Association, things are sounding pretty good this time. We’ll see what happens.”
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