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FOP Wants Sheriff's Deputies to Stay Out of Pa. City

The Fraternal Order of Police had a message for Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held: stay out of Jeannette.

FOP officials, police chiefs and officers from neighboring police departments told Jeannette City Council on Wednesday that Held's plan to assume police functions and back up city police officers is illegal.

Steve Aulerich, president of FOP Lodge 39 and a Lower Burrell police officer, said under the law, deputies have no ability to conduct criminal investigations.

"Under the law, the sheriff has no ability to investigate crimes," he said. "He does not possess the authority to do that. Be careful in utilizing their services except what they're authorized by law to do," Aulerich said.

Daniel Uncapher, vice president of the lodge, said the legal power of sheriffs' deputies is limited. County sheriffs are responsible for serving warrants, hunting fugitives, guarding and transporting prisoners and protecting courtrooms. They also handle real estate transactions such as sheriff's sales.

Uncapher said sheriff's deputies in other counties have been involved in criminal investigations and have made arrests, and that is not permitted under state law.

"As a lodge, we would hate to see this spin out of control as it has in other places," said Uncapher, a policeman in Allegheny Township. "We are concerned as a lodge that this situation that has arisen in other municipalities does not occur here or anywhere else in the county."

Held attended the council meeting and told officials that he has a good working relationship with Jeannette police. He said it was not his plan to take over any duties of the city's force.

"My office did not conspire with council or any other leader of Jeannette to take over the police department or replace the police department," Held said. "We have a great working relationship with the Jeannette police and look forward to maintaining a great relationship with the Jeannette police."

Held has said he would serve as backup to Jeannette police officers, but city attorney Scott Avolio said deputies are not considered police officers under state law and any police service must be handled by city cops.

Avolio said if Held's deputies assumed any function handled by city police, that could be viewed as a violation of the city's contract with its policemen and likely would lead to arbitration. The services performed by city police officers are work negotiated by contract and covered by the city's labor agreement with the FOP, Avolio added.

Held said he has deputies each day serving warrants, hunting fugitives who have skipped bond or failed to appear for court hearings and transporting inmates from the county jail to hearings at District Judge Joseph Demarchis' office in the city.

Copyright 2014 - Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service