2010-10-21 / Local & State

Rural Sheriffs Seek Expanded Powers

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Sheriffs in rural Pennsylvania counties are seeking expanded law enforcement powers, but opponents say they fear conflicts with other agencies.

A state House committee last month shelved a bill that would have granted municipal police duties to sheriffs and deputies. It would have allowed sheriffs and deputies to conduct investigations and make arrests in addition to their traditional duties of providing court security, transporting prisoners and serving court papers.

The Pittsburgh Tribune- Review says backers contend that the bill would merely restore powers that have been pared back recently by state appellate courts, which said deputies are not investigative or law enforcement officers.

The Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association said the bill would let 2,300 deputies perform law enforcement activities “as needed’’ in their communities. The measure would also have let sheriffs enter into patrol agreements with municipalities that have no local police departments.

But opponents say the changes would have touched off jurisdictional conflicts with local and state police.

Those against the idea include the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, the state Fraternal Order of Police, Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association. The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania also raised concerns about whether it would create a financial burden for counties.

Bruce Edwards, president of the troopers association, said there are more than enough warrants for deputies to serve, and state police are responsible for patrolling communities that don’t have local police.

“Our sheriff system is not set up (for investigations) like other states,’’ Edwards said. “They have a very important job to do. They are an arm of the court.’’

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Tim Mahoney, DPa., says his Fayette County constituents are calling for more law enforcement patrols, whether they’re conducted by police, constables or sheriff’s deputies.

“I think whatever we can do to put more officers on the street, we’ll be catching up with the game,’’ said Mahoney, who has pushed for regionalization of police, fire and public school services.

Police protection has been a growing issue in some smaller Westmoreland County communities that have no local police. Towns such as Youngwood, New Stanton and Hunker are trying to decide whether to join a regional police force or try to get officers from neighboring municipalities to patrol.

Hunker’s mayor, Pat Brigode, said she liked the idea of a municipality being able to contract with a sheriff’s department for patrols.

“I know the state police have their hands full and they just can’t do it all,’’ she said.

Return to top