Indiana, PA - Indiana County

New law calls for county sheriff's training

by The Indiana Gazette on July 24, 2014 10:56 AM

Gov. Tom Corbett has signed legislation calling for training and certification for those elected as county sheriffs in Pennsylvania.

A coalition of sheriffs has praised the legislation, Act 114 of 2014, saying that it provides added professionalism to the office of sheriff. Some deputies and sheriffs expect that the law will help dispel the view that their offices operate at a lower level of sophistication that the state police or local police departments in the state.

Corbett signed the measure July 9.

The new law amends a long-standing mandate of training and continuing education for deputies to include sheriffs, and gives the name Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff Education and Training Board to the governing panel administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

“There was a time in Pennsylvania when many of the individuals elected to the office of sheriff had no law enforcement background, but that simply isn’t the case anymore,” said Bob Wollyung, executive director of the Pennsylvania Sheriffs Association. “Now, all but a handful of sheriffs are either former deputies or police officers, former chiefs of police or former members of the state police. This legislation recognizes those changes.”

In Indiana County, the last three elected sheriffs had law enforcement experience. John Gondal, a retired state police trooper, served from 1978 to 1992, and Donald Beckwith, also a retired trooper, was sheriff from 1992 to 2004.

Robert Fyock, the current sheriff, served as a corrections officer at the Indiana County Jail and a deputy sheriff in the 1970s and ’80s, county jail warden from 1985 to 1992, and as a detective in the district attorney’s office from 1992 until his election as sheriff in November 2003.

In areas where sheriff’s offices struggle to be seen as equal with other law enforcement authorities, the law should help improve the way people view the sheriffs.

“There’s no reason why it shouldn’t,” said Chief Deputy Chris Cusimano of the Indiana County sheriff’s office. “The training is equivalent — all our deputies are Act 120 and Act 2 certified. We have both municipal police training and deputy sheriff training.

“The whole idea now is that anybody can run for sheriff — but if you become sheriff and you have no law enforcement experience, you will have to go through the academy and pass the training” to be allowed to serve.

“This will bolster that and make sure everyone is on the same playing field,” he said.

The training and education programs are funded by a portion of fees collected by sheriff’s offices on legal documents that they serve.

The legislation “will go a long way to show that sheriffs and their deputies have a legitimate place among the law enforcement agencies of this commonwealth,” said association President Ray Gerringer, the sheriff of Montour County.

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