Penn State Intercom......March 29, 2001

Deputy sheriffs learn the ropes during
expanded training class at University Park

By Bill Campbell
Special to Intercom police3

There's a new sheriff in town. Actually, there are a lot of them. Deputy sheriffs from Pennsylvania's 67 counties are undergoing intensive law enforcement training on the University Parkcampus, provided by Penn State's Justice and Safety Institute.

Traditionally, the duties of sheriff deputies in Pennsylvania were largely court-related -- providing courtroom security, processing and serving court documents, enforcing court orders and transporting criminals. Recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court rulings have affirmed they have law enforcement powers, but provided that they must complete training comparable to other Pennsylvania law enforcement officers.

"In effect, the court decisions increased basic training for deputies from four to 14 weeks," Donald Zettlemoyer, institute director, said. "The new training program basically is a law enforcement academy. It covers a range of topics, including civil law, criminal law, firearms, defense tactics, first aid, physical training, crisis intervention and emergency vehicle operation."

Zettlemoyer said that even though the deputy training is now 14 weeks in length, most of those involved thus far have been pleased with it.

"Most welcome the opportunity to professionalize the status of Pennsylvania deputy sheriffs," he said.

Robert Stonis, institute associate director, coordinates the training program. He said two groups have completed the training and a third class is under way. Classes are limited to a maximum of 40 students, with four classes to be offered annually. The institute also is providing four, three-week waiver classes annually for deputies who have had previous law enforcement experience and have passed a required exam.

The deputies undergo training Monday through Friday and are housed at the Ramada Inn in State College, near the University Park campus. They have access to Penn State Dining Services for meals. Classes are held in the HUB-Robeson Center, while other activities are conducted at the IM Building, White Building, the Pennsylvania Traffic Institute Test Track and the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Scotia Range.

"A long-term goal is that the increased training will professionalize the office and improve the service and quality of the people who come into the profession," Stonis said. "We are providing blocks on which they can continue building and practice what they learned. Our hope is they will discover different ways of doing things, and, by doing so, become better deputy sheriffs."

Oliver Benning, a deputy in the Lebanon County Sheriff's Office, sees the training program as a real challenge.

"It is challenging, but I believe that's what we need in our lives," he said. "I consider the training another important step in advancing my law enforcement career. I want to achieve all I can in the profession so that I can do my job to the best of my ability.

"It is very difficult being away from home. I'm married and the weekends are not long enough. But my wife is very understanding. She knows I'm here to accomplish something that will make our lives better in the long run."

Mandy Miller, a deputy in the Berks County Sheriff's Office, observed her first wedding anniversary while away from home.

"That was not the easiest thing to do," she said. "But I'm learning a great deal that will help me in terms of my career. The class is giving me a basic understanding of every division of a sheriff's department. I'll be more confident knowing that I've had training in a wide range of areas."

The Justice and Safety Institute has been awarded a $2 million contract to provide the training from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD). Funding comes from court fees managed by the PCCD.

Zettlemoyer said the program would have a significant economic impact on the University and the community. He estimated the annual impact to the University, including salaries, facilities, dining services and transportation services, at some $622,000 and to the community of more than $800,000.

The institute has a 30-year history and a national reputation of providing management and executive level police training programs.

"Being the sole provider of basic training for sheriff's deputies in Pennsylvania is a major undertaking for us," Zettlemoyer said. "It is a different step for the institute. With the deputy program, we are now engaged in training from the beginning to the executive level of an officer's career. This fuller perspective will benefit both programs."

Bill Campbell can be reached at wjc1@psu.edu.

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