Deputies desperately wanted at Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Department

October 13, 2018

Despite myriad criminal and civil woes swirling around the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Department in recent years, Sheriff Jonathan Held maintained Monday he believes “it’s still a pretty good place to work” and wants potential applicants to know that.

However, Held laments in recent months, the number of part-time sheriff’s deputies, who assist the department’s 55 full-time deputies with daily duties, has dwindled to an all-time low since he was elected in 2011.

“I believe it’s fallen to a critical (low) level right now. Our full-time complement for part-time (deputies) is 19 and right now it’s down to just eight,” Held said.

“Right now, we’re actively seeking any men or women who are retired state troopers or are Act 120 certified having graduated from a municipal police academy and have been previously employed by a municipal or county police department,” Held said.

With the retired state police troopers and municipal police academy trained officers, applicants can bypass the mandatory 19-week training course that complete newcomers are required to pass before being certified as deputies.

“Retired troopers and Act 120 certified personnel can begin after just two weeks’ training,” Held said.

Daily duties for deputies include transporting prisoners from county jails to local courts, keeping guard over prisoners being treated at area hospitals, assisting with court security, serving warrants and assisting county residents in obtaining or renewing their gun permits.

Held was re-elected in 2015. His tenure has been marred by a series of lawsuits filed against him by current and former employees.

This year, the state Attorney General’s Office charged Held with three criminal counts alleging he used on-duty deputies and county equipment for campaign activities. Held, who maintains his innocence, has a trial slated to begin in December.

He plans to seek a third term in 2019.

While admitting numerous, much-publicized controversies in his department are likely responsible for some of the dwindling applicant numbers, he said other factors are also at work.

Held noted the starting salary for a state trooper in Pennsylvania is $59,567, plus full benefits, is drawing potential applicants away. Many local police departments also pay higher salary than the $18.83 per hour offered part-time deputies in Westmoreland. He said most deputies work over 30 hours a week.

In a Tribune-Review article last March describing a nationwide shortage of municipal officers across the nation, Frank Newill, director of the Westmoreland Municipal Police Officers Training Academy at Westmoreland County Community College, said many departments across the country are showing signs of “desperation” in their search for officers.

The Arlington County, Va., police department advertised openings for its positions starting at more than $53,000 a year on a billboard along Route 66 north of Greensburg.

Newill maintained the shortage of qualified candidates has to do partly with the demands of the job, partly with the stringent entrance requirements and partly with increased public scrutiny of law enforcement.

Held added a number of publications have warned recently the recruiting situation among departments nationwide has reached a “crisis” stage.

“A few years ago, we were down to 11 (part-time deputies), but this is the lowest number we’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said. “I want people to know that despite what they may have seen in the media, I think the sheriff’s department is a pretty good place to work.”

Interested applicants can apply by contacting the human resources or sheriff’s office at the courthouse on North Main Street in Greensurg. Applications can also be made online with the county human resources department.

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