Sheriff’s Department Action Questioned

Editor, News-Register:

It is indeed with some misgivings that I write this letter because I truly believe that I dedicated eight productive years to bring the Ohio County Sheriff’s Office out of, if not the Dark Ages, at least from a time where education, training, salary and officer benefits were not high on a county’s priority list.

However, the recent front-page story of the Wheeling News Register dated June 5, 2014, written by Fred Connors was the “tipping point” as far as I was concerned. This article truly tells a story much deeper in scope than “Police, Sheriff Departments fighting over funding.”

The Wheeling Police Department really needs to be commended during the tenure of both Chief Matheney and most recently under the direction of Chief Schwertfeger. Their department has taken over the security of all of Ohio County schools, previously assisted by Ohio County deputies who are no longer engaged in this endeavor. In doing so, the Wheeling Police Department has received numerous commendations from state and county educational leaders for the exceptional manner in which they have handled this responsibility. This important role is being handled professionally and those officers should be commended and have been.

On another note, the Ohio County Sheriff’s Office, assisted by Officer Phil Redford of the Wheeling Police Department, initiated the Citizens Police Academy, which so many of our Ohio County residents have attended over the years. For the last couple of years this concept has been taken over and spearheaded by Officer Phil Redford, assisted by Wheeling Police Officer Josh Sanders. All one has to do is interview the graduates of this weekly academy to determine what a great impact this academy has had on defining what our local officers go through on a daily basis.

Regarding training accomplishments and citations received by the Wheeling Police Department, recent awards were presented to our “law enforcement and fire fighting community” but for some reason I did not observe any such recognition for our Ohio County deputies. Officer Drahos was recognized for his extremely professional and successful reaction to the terrible factual situation involved in the shooting involving our Federal Building. All one has to do is pick up our local paper or tune in to our local television stations to get the picture.

I had the occasion recently to spend some time with a sheriff from a county which is contiguous to Ohio County and observed several items behind his desk – plaques and medals – which he told me were presented to certain deputies from his department for accomplishments which were “above and beyond the call of duty.” I harkened back when, as sheriff of Ohio County, I established the concept of “Deputies of the Year” where annually an award, made visible to our community through the media, was presented to two deputies. Along with the citations, a small check was presented to the award winners. It was amazing to note that very rarely did the same deputy receive the award twice, which points out that several deputies were making solid contributions and I don’t recall any controversy over who won the award in a certain year because the men and women knew the reasons for the award.

Over the past six years the Ohio County Sheriff’s Office, as far as I know, has not truly recognized any of their staff for their dedication to the job. As all of us who have traveled through life’s pursuits know, many times a simple “pat on the back” goes a long way to the mindset of someone who has to strap a gun on every day never knowing when some “crazy” will gun them down as recently happened to three officers in our neighboring Canada.

This brings me back to our headline story in which long time Governor’s Highway Safety Program Director Bob Tipton said the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department did not participate in the May 9-26, 2014 seat belt sweep across our state and had not been involved in other similar campaigns. Tipton was quoted as saying, “The Ohio County Sheriff’s Department does not participate in any of our funded programs.” This quote truly was a “bombshell” as far as I was concerned. Then, when the Ohio County sheriff was asked why his department did not participate, instead of answering the question and standing up for his reasoning, whatever that would have been, he referred the question to one of his subordinates. Actually, in the recent incident, it appears that $5,000 of our local taxpayers money was used to cover the deputies’ pay instead of utilizing state money.

I think that if for some reason money did not appear from the state, which had been coming for years, an elected official responsible in his duties, would ask why this was happening and would not let it fester for three years.

Whether the paperwork involved in this fiasco was lost or not is beside the point. We all know what we do when we lose something – we put everything aside in an effort to locate the missing item, in this case the “paperwork.” This apparently was not pursued by the sheriff. I also wonder when the last time our sheriff made it a point to have a meaningful discussion with Chief Schwertfeger about this situation which has now been elevated to a degree where it can certainly hurt a good working relationship which is so sorely needed in our community.

It appears that for some reason our sheriff not only has been unable to responsibly work this problem out with Mr. Tipton, who has been known to do a very fair job when it comes to distributing money to our departments, but he has also caused a rift within our area local law enforcement brothers and sisters. I remember the words of long time FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover who said “cooperation is the key to successful law enforcement.” Someone here refused to take the blame and is not playing well with others and it’s not Chief Schwertfeger.

Some readers may think that this letter is maybe “sour grapes” because of Burgoyne’s estrangement with the sheriff. Trust me, it is not. It is all about treating our county law enforcement deputies the way they should be treated. Ask one of them if they think it’s sour grapes.

Tom Burgoyne

Former Ohio County Sheriff