B y Bill Toscano
The last six months have been a period of quick changes at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Jeff Murphy, who took over in January after Roger Leclaire’s 16 years as sheriff, was ready to make his own mark on the office. While many things have not changed, Murphy figures he has knocked about 40 items off his to-do list so far.
While many are simple procedural issues that he knows the public will never notice, he’s well into the process of putting what he considers one of his most vital initiatives into place.
Murphy has been visiting board of supervisors meetings through Washington County to introduce his sheriff’s liaison program, which matches a member of his staff with a specific town and its supervisor.
“People often go to their local government first, and this gives them a direct line of communication to our office,” Murphy said. “People call their town supervisor or see them on the street.”
“The response has been great,” Murphy added. “The towns have been reaching out to us.”
Murphy’s first visit was to Granville, where Deputy Dave Buxton, also a local resident, will work with Supervisor Matt Hicks.
Murphy is especially pleased that Buxton lives in Granville. “Those are the kinds of people we want involved in this,” Murphy said. “When we have local guys available, that works even better.”
Murphy said the response from his sheriffs was excellent. “We were able to fill all 17 slots,” he said.
“The whole goal is to make it easier for the people in the community when they’re having an issue,” he said.
There’s an additional step, Murphy said.
“When our staff gets together for a meeting, we’ll ask the liaisons what is going on in their towns,” Murphy said. “We can decide what to do as a group, and (Undersheriff) John Winchell and I can get back to the supervisors.”
Deputy Cory Hurlburt will be working with Hartford, Sgt. Mike Distasio will be in Hampton and Sgt. Chris Worthington will be the liaison in Hebron. Capt. Gene McKenna will be working with Whitehall and Dresden.
Hicks is very happy with the idea itself and his town’s pairing with Buxton.
“In a global sense, I like the idea of having that outreach. It’s great to have a conduit for us to be able to communicate with the sheriff’s office,” Hicks said.
“Having Dave is great. He’s a great guy, he was instrumental in the rescue we had during the tropical storm last year. He’s involved in Little League. He’s got kids here. It’s great for the town to have him.”
Changes on patrol
Budget cutbacks had forced Leclaire to cut back on overnight patrols, and Murphy is piloting a plan that he hopes will allow better coverage in the early morning hours.
He recently took three deputies from the 2 p.m. to midnight shift and moved then to a 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift. Combined with the existing 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, he said, there will be more deputies available between midnight and 3 a.m. The new shift is being used on a trial basis. “We’ll see if it works. The overnight patrols were a concern of mine. This will give us extra bodies,” Murphy said.
The office also recently purchased a patrol boat, using federal drug forfeiture money.
“We have not had a boat for years, but we had people trained. It made sense for emergency purposes. We’ve got a lot of lakes and rivers.”
Murphy has made a number of physical changes to the county Law Enforcement Center, including streamlining the reception process and creating spaces where his deputies can interview people privately.
“This takes time,” said Murphy, who notes there are a number of other changes he wants to make to his offices.
He has also established a Facebook page for the office. “That way, if we have an emerging incident, we can put information out,” he said. “People can contact us on Facebook, and we can get information out as well and cut back on rumors.”
New vehicles coming
The sheriff’s office will also have a new look on the road with six new vehicles coming.
The department uses the classic police car, the Ford Crown Victoria, as well as the Dodge Charger. Ford is no longer making the Crown Victoria, but has developed a new police interceptor, which is available with both a car body and an SUV.
The office has received the two sedans, and the four SUVs are on the way.
“They come with all-wheel drive, which will make a lot of difference out on the roads in the winter, and they get 25 percent better gas mileage than the Chargers.”
The look of the vehicles will change as well. Murphy said the office is experimenting with different color schemes, and added he expects the tradition sheriff red, common across the state, will be included.