By Bill Toscano
After 16 years under Sheriff Roger Leclaire, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office has a new leader. In just two months, Sheriff Jeffrey J. Murphy has already started adding his own touches to the department. He says there is a lot more change coming.
“It’s great. It’s been very busy, but I am thoroughly enjoying it,” said Murphy, who was sworn in Jan. 2. “We have a lot of plans, but we do know that we cannot do everything at once. Everyone has been great and really helpful with the transitions.”
Murphy is bringing a “community policing” approach to the sheriff’s office and has already added “Community First” to the office’s letterhead.
Last week, he discussed new plans ranging from having deputies serve as liaisons to town supervisors, to planning a law enforcement Explorer post for youth ages 14 to 21 interested in police issues to remodeling the sheriff’s office.
“We’re making some physical changes within the building itself to better serve our citizens,” Murphy said, going on to explain that he plans to remodel the deputies’ office to bring the lieutenant and three investigators in from their scattered offices and to add a private interview area.
As Murphy walked a visitor into the room, he pointed to a woman being interviewed by a deputy.
“That’s what we are trying to make better,” he said. “Right now, she’s out here, people are walking through and deputies are trying to work. With the changes, we will be more consolidated, and there will be a private place to talk.”
The renovation is being paid for by forfeiture funds. “It’s the criminals who are paying for this,” he said. “This is money we seized from them.”
Murphy also plans to make it easier for visitors to the office, directing them to one specific window and changing where pistol-permit applicants — the majority of the visitors, he said — go to get their permits.
One of his major goals is to get his deputies to interact with citizens in areas outside of traffic stops and arrests.
“We are putting in more community-based policies. We don’t want the citizens in the county interacting with us only in a bad situation,” he said. “We’re going to be in the schools more, talking about DWI, traffic safety, drugs and showing them our canine. It’s little things like that where we can make contact. We don’t want to lose sight of positive interaction with the public.”
That’s also the reason for developing the Explorers’ unit. “There are a lot of teen-agers who have a real interest in law enforcement,” he said. “It will be good for us to have interaction with them before we see them on other issues.”
On the adult level, is the idea of pairing local deputies with supervisors.
“I asked for volunteers for that, and I think we have eight deputies set up with supervisors so far. I am going to write to the supervisors to see if we have more interest.
“People often go to the town board when they have law-enforcement issues, and this is a good opportunity for us to have a liaison with the town supervisors.”
Murphy oversees about 150 people, including 32 deputies on road patrol, as well as investigators, corrections staff and administrative personnel.
He said he has met with everyone on the law enforcement side. “That’s the advantage of having a big training room. We must have had 50 people in there,” he said, adding he plans to have a similar group meeting with the corrections staff.
Undersheriff Matthew Mabb also retired along with Leclaire, and Murphy brought John Winchell, who had been a detective sergeant, in as undersheriff. The rest of the administrative staff remains in place.
Murphy said Leclaire and Mabb helped a great deal with the transition. “They were there for us,” he said. “They had us ready to go.”
Prior to becoming sheriff, Murphy worked for three years as an investigator for Kevin Kortright, county district attorney. He has served as the coordinator of the Washington County Drug Task Force, which includes more than a dozen agencies, including the Granville and Whitehall police departments.
He is a lifelong county resident and was an officer in Hudson Falls, rising to the rank of deputy chief. He served as training and accreditation officer under Leclaire, and wrote the sheriff’s office manual.
That work came in handy in January when the state law enforcement accreditation program came in to evaluate the sheriff’s office after Murphy had been on the job for only two weeks. But Murphy has done more than 30 assessments himself, and he said the office passed with solid results.
Murphy is also something of a computer expert and he has used that area for better communication, establishing a Facebook page, improving the website and turning from the fax machine to email for sending out press releases.