Three seek Democratic nomination for Greene Co. sheriff

May 14, 2013
From left, Erik Richard Ketchem, William F. Lewis Jr. and Brian Tennant are seeking the Democratic nomination for Greene County sheriff.

WAYNESBURG – Three candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination to replace longtime Greene County Sheriff Richard Ketchem, who announced in January that he would not seek another term of office.

They are, in ballot order, Brian Tennant, a Waynesburg police officer; William Lewis Jr., a state constable; and Erik Ketchem, the son of Richard Ketchem and a foreman for the state Department of Correction’s community works program.

Tennant said the sheriff’s department should be more involved in law enforcement and he believes his training as a police officer, and his trained police dog, will help the department move in that direction.

The sheriff’s department now primarily transports prisoners and serves court documents. “I believe they are capable of doing much more,” he said. “Our county is in dire need of more law enforcement and I think our sheriff’s department should be more of a law enforcement presence throughout the county.”

Tennant said he would like to see the department conduct patrols, increase warrant service and address one of the biggest problems the county faces, illegal drug use. “I think the sheriff’s department could be participating, doing more, with the drug task force.”

Tennant is a now a member of the drug task force. He said his Act 120 police certification will allow him to continue as a task force member. The certification also will allow him to enforce traffic laws, violations of which have become a big problem with the increased truck traffic, he said.

Lewis said he enjoys working with the courts and other law enforcement agencies and he believes during his tenure as a constable and deputy coroner he has gained the “life experience” necessary to understand and work well with people.

“It takes a certain person to work with the public and to get along with people to where you earn their trust,” he said. “I feel that over the years I’ve acquired that experience through my many hours of training, working with the courts and working with people in the county.”

Lewis said he, too, would like to see the department more involved in law enforcement, doing patrols and helping police and the drug task force, which he has assisted for years. “There’s a lot more the sheriff’s department can do,” he said. “They can get out in the communities and see what the problems are and try to deal with some of these problems,” he said.

Ketchem said he is already familiar with the sheriff’s department, having spent time there since he was a teenager and his father was deputy sheriff. He also worked as a full-time sheriff’s deputy for about two years in the 1990s and after that occasionally helped out in the office.

“I based my education, my job skills and everything else around this eventual position I am in now, to actually run for sheriff,” he said, citing his educational background and his work in corrections.

Ketchem has his Act 2 sheriff’s certification. “I’m the only candidate who has ever worked in the sheriff’s department; I actually know what the sheriff does,” he said.

Ketchem said he intends to be a presence in the communities. He said he will be “a community sheriff, be involved in all the schools and in every township and every town, not just Waynesburg. Everything in Greene County, I want to be involved in.”

Lewis has been a state constable for 20 years, serving warrants and civil writs for district judges and transported prisoners to and from the courts. He has been a deputy coroner for the last three and a half years.

Lewis has his Act 49 constable certification and has completed numerous training programs in criminal and civil law, prisoner transportation, domestic violence and crisis intervention. As deputy coroner, he’s received training in investigations and causes of death.

Lewis said he would like to see the sheriff’s department involved in the drug task force. As a constable, Lewis said, he has often worked with the task force, serving and executing warrants and providing tips on drug activities.

Lewis would also like to see the department increase drug and alcohol programs in the schools, conduct community patrols and do more to assist state police by helping transport their defendants to preliminary hearings. State police now have to transport their own prisoners, which takes them away from more important work, he said.

Increasing security at the courthouse also would be a priority. “Right now, you can pretty much walk through the door and you can carry whatever (weapon) you want into the building,” he said. He said he would work with the county commissioners and seek grants to get the money to cover the costs of increased courthouse security.

Lewis said his job takes him not only throughout the county but also to other counties. “I’ve seen different agencies and how they perform their duties. I’ve worked with them and I believe I can bring a different standard of professionalism to the county sheriff’s office.”

Ketchem is a 17-year veteran of the Department of Corrections. For the last seven years he has been the foreman of its community works program, supervising inmates on community works projects throughout the area. Much of a sheriff’s duties involves working with inmates, he said. “I work with inmates on a daily basis,” he said.

“I’ve always based my career in corrections on community service,” Ketchem said. “That’s what I want to do for the sheriff’s department, continue a community-based sheriff’s department, a people’s police,” he said.

Ketchem said he would also like to spend time in the schools. One program he would like to start is a “scared straight” program that would bring someone who has been to prison in to talk to young people about the consequences of committing crimes.

“The kids can see first-hand how it effects people, how it effects their families and other people’s live,” he said. Ketchem said he would like to increase security at the courthouse but to do that the department would need more deputies. “You’d like to have a bigger department but you’re budget depends on the county commissioners, so you’re kind of tied there.” He said he would work with the commissioners to try to get additional funding.

He also maintains the duties of a sheriff have been limited by case law. A sheriff can place someone under arrest if he sees the person commit a crime, he said. But he would have to wait for a police officer to come to do the investigation and file charges.

Ketchem said he would like to see that changed. “I would push for legislation to allow the sheriffs to actually be police officers. You can use a police force in the county,” Ketchem said. “My goal has always been to have a countywide police force.”

Tennant said he would like to see sheriff deputies conduct patrols and would have the department take a more active role in warrant services, which would get deputies out more into the communities.

“Right now a lot of the warrant services in the county have fallen to constables,” he said. Domestic relations and probation, for instance, previously used the sheriff’s department but now use constables to serve their warrants, he said.

The increase in warrant service and other changes he would implement could be achieved by better using existing staff, he said. “A sheriff who actually is willing to go out and be involved and get his hands dirty and actually participate in things will also go a long way to help,” he said.

Tennant said he believes the introduction of a K-9 unit will be a “huge benefit” for the sheriff’s department. His police dog, which he will bring with him to the department, is certified in narcotics detection and tracking. The dog can be used for drug searches in homes, vehicles and schools, for article searches and for tracking missing persons or suspects.

Improving courthouse security also is “paramount,” Tennant said. “The only time there is security in the courthouse now is during high profile cases,” he said. “But I think something is just as likely if not more likely to happen in family court on a Wednesday when they’re trying to take away somebody’s children.”

Tennant said he would work with the schools to implement the DARE program, which addresses substance abuse and teaches young people to make better decisions. He also would like to start a volunteer search and rescue team and make deputies available to assist at fire, rescue and crash scenes.

Tennant said that as a police officer, member of the drug task force and a county detective, he has established relationship with law enforcement agencies in the county.

“I have a working relationship with all the departments in the county. I have the K-9 unit that I think is going to be an asset and I just think I’m the best person to lead the sheriff’s department in a new direction,” he said.

Bob Niedbala worked as a general assignment reporter for the newspaper for 27 years in the Greene County bureau. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh.

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