Archive

Expanding powers of sheriffs potentially troublesome | TribLIVE.com
Editorials

Expanding powers of sheriffs potentially troublesome

There’s a bill in the state House that would increase the arrest and investigative powers of county sheriffs that holds particular interest in Westmoreland County.

It’s the kind of increased power that embattled Sheriff Jonathan Held once tried to exercise.

We question the cost.

The Trib’s Westmoreland editorial board foresees sheriffs asking for more resources that likely would require a large influx of cash in the form of taxpayer dollars.

Other opponents believe that increased power could spawn larger sheriff’s forces. And that sounds like turf wars could result.

Then there’s Sheriff Held.

The county commissioners want the state Legislature to impeach him. He’s charged with three crimes accusing him of theft for allegedly diverting county resources toward his re-election campaign. He is to be arraigned May 16 in his public-corruption case.

He’s cost taxpayers $250,000-plus for 11 lawsuits’ settlements and legal fees, and still faces more lawsuits.

For years, the county commissioners routinely criticized him about operations of his office, his staffing and internal problems. They battled with him several times as he sought to increase staffing.

Specific to House Bill 466, in 2014, Held planned to assume police functions and back up city police officers in Jeannette. The city police rebuffed the idea, and Jeannette’s solicitor said state law prohibited it.

With the exception of Allegheny County in the region, the duties and policing powers of sheriffs and their deputies are more limited than municipal or state police.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Marshall, R-Beaver County, would allow sheriffs and deputies who complete the same type of training as municipal police officers to investigate and make arrests for certain crimes that they didn’t witness, such as a burglary. Now they have to call in municipal or state police to investigate.

Marshall says his intent is to provide another line of crime fighters to the cadre of state troopers and municipal police.

But the state District Attorneys Association, state and municipal police unions oppose the bill, as did every Democrat on the House State Government Committee that sent the bill to the floor. Police say their union protections keep political meddling at bay. In Pennsylvania, some sheriffs are appointed but others are elected, like in Westmoreland County.

Supporters say it would put more manpower on the streets to battle certain drug-related crimes and gun violence.

On the face of it, the bill shouldn’t pose much of an issue, but we think it potentially opens a six-pack of worms.

And the circumstances that surround Held are perhaps a prime exhibit as to why sheriff’s powers should remain limited.


TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.