Friday, May 16, 2008

Northampton County Fires Two Popular Deputies

If you're a Bethlehem cop, you'll be required to qualify with your weapon at least once every year. That makes sense. But did you know that Northampton County deputy sheriffs must qualify twice every year? Because two older deputies failed to qualify at a shooting range from 25 yards, they were recently given their walking papers.

Are deputy sheriffs even cops? There are numerous decisions going both ways, and the extent of their authority is murky. Legislation has been proposed to make clear that deputies have the same clout as regular cops - HB 466 - but it has been languishing in the Judiciary Committee since February, 2007.

Northampton County has employed two older gentlemen, Sam Senneca and Joe Peake, as deputy sheriffs for many years. Both are extremely popular. Sam, who is about twenty feet tall, was always stationed in the bullpen with prisoners waiting to go to court. He never carried a gun. He never needed one.

But when Sam and Joe "failed" to qualify with their pistols, they were unceremoniously shown the door by some high-ranking deputy impressed with his own importance. Neither was even given an opportunity to say good-bye.

Firearms' qualifications should only be one of many factors to consider in evaluating the performance of a deputy sheriff. By any other measure, from intelligence to personality, both of these gentlemen excel. I seriously question whether someone - a hangover from the Deputy ("Bend Over") Kunkel days - is just trying to shove them aside to make room for one of his pals.

High-ranking county officials are trying to find employment for Sam and Joe in some other capacity. They should. The real value in Northampton County comes from its workforce, not its pretty new courthouse.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't know these men, but per your story, it seems there will be a loss of true talent on the force if they aren't utilized in some capacity.

Alfonso

Tom Foolery said...

I'm told that they are the ones they are moving to the Wolfe building to provide security there.
I assume they will still be working at least. Forcing Sheriff's, who aren't considered law Enforcement officers to qualify with weapons that they never need to use is ridiculous. Why didn't the county exec intervene?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Tom Foolery,

I only know a few details, but don't think Stoffa can do much because of the union. If he were to try to reverse the decision, he might be facing an unfair labor practice grievance.

Sam always worked what we call the bullpen. No deputy who works there is armed.

I understand that rules are rules and think NC deputies are actually the best police department in the LV, but I would think they would try to find something for these exceptional workers.

Anonymous said...

it was certainly a cruel act on behalf of the shrieffs department.i'm very pleased to see you show them the kindness compassion and consideration they both deserve thank you bernie.

Anonymous said...

The Sheriffs Dept is under the Executive. Stoffa could have stepped in and stopped or reversed the decision. This is an iternal County policy not a State or Fereral rule. Unfair practice or not, Stoffa is the ultimate boss. This guy is amazing, he lets them be fired then says he looking for a job for them.
I know you love the guy but what is the point of your post? At the end of the day, this happens or does not, based on the County Executive.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The Sheriffs Dept is under the Executive.

Really? Ask Jerry Seyfried about that. His attempt to remove Sheriff Diomedo blew up in his face, and that was a removal for cause. The courts have a great deal of control over the sheriff's office. It's not as simple as you think. If Stoffa can do more, he should. Knowing him as I do, I suspect he is doing everything he can. Things like that have a ripple effect on morale.

Anonymous said...

Both of the sheriffs that were released are very good at their jobs. Im not sure why the rules have changed all of the sudden, when for years they never needed to carry a gun. I can understand the need for a sheriff to carry, if they would serve warrants.

Valima said...

Sigh! So the complaint made by two Lehigh County deputies were not warranted because deputies handle civil matters and have little need for fire arms, but these two gentlemen get their walking papaers?!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Valima, Very well put.

Anonymous said...

The reason is we have elected reelected very poor representatives
for over a decade now.

We have allow the branding of the political parties cloud our mind
from what is right and equitable.

They have very poor civic skills
the general local population as well.

All lead to - hang on your hat rid;
because, you haven't seen nothing yet.

You will want less police officers out there; if we are going to correct this injustice of our actions and/or inactions.

Growing pains are upon us all.

Brian said...

Is that the same Sam Senneca who was a gym teacher at Freedom?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I believe that's his son, who has been involved in high school athletic programs. Sam's grandson was QB @ CCHS and went on to PSU. Sam is a very good guy. His job was the bullpen. Deputies who work there carry no weapons.

Chris Miller said...

Bernie
I know Sam and his son. Sam senior had worked for the postal service. What I want to know is why don't we have deputies in the bull pen, as you call it, with weapons? It isn't as though bad stuff hasn't happened in a court room. If qualification is required I would think that all the men employed as deputies would know that. If you are required to carry a weapon, you need to be able to hit what you aim at.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Chris,

First, when Sam was originally hired, it was understoood that he was a former postal worker. I wonder whether regulations requiring that he qaulify twice every year were even in place.

Second, as a matter of security, deputies in the bullpen are not armed for the same reason that prison guards aren't armed. Experts in security, not real estate agents or title searchers, have determined it is unwise.

Third, if you know Sam, you know he is a giant and anyone who tried to tangle with him would be very foolish.

Chris Miller said...

Bernie
I see you are a bit testy today. I know Sam because I saw him at the post office all the time. His son taught at Freedom so I ran into him. Both are big men. Neither one can stop a .45 caliber slug to the heart or head and I don't care how big the shooter is. Sam senior is no spring chicken and neither am I. When I go to bad parts of town a friend, for which I am legally licensed, goes with me. All I am saying is that bad things can happen anywhere. I would sure as hell hate to wake up and read that Sam was shot by some guy in the courtroom and Sam had no way to defend himself. That said, the county is free to make their own policy and hope for the best.

Anonymous said...

both are great men and should have been retained. One was a big guy and the other a former police officer in Easton. Seems like age discrimination to me.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Chris,

Are you making policy for the sheriff's office now? Deputies in the bullpen are unarmed. So are prison guards. And I'm not sure they can adopt policies that were not in place when these good men were originally hired, and expect to be able to enforce them against these gentlemen.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry Mr. Miller, this is not a personal attack against you.

You admit you are no spring chicken and a friend goes with you to bad parts of town. I assume that you are carrying a loaded firearm.

What happens in close quarters, when a person is forced to draw a weapon on a criminal? Will that person be capable of getting the firearm out of its holster in time? Or will that criminal over-power law abiding and firearm carrying citizen, take that weapon, and use it how ever that criminal (he or she) wants?

In close(d) situations, it is more of a liability to have a firearm than not. A person with a knife, 7 yards or less away, will stab someone with that knife before the gun carrying person can even draw that weapon out of its holster. That happens, no matter how fast a person's reflexes are. Think about the confined areas of a prison or a bull-pen.

It is difficult, even for most police/safety officers to qualify with their firearms. When have any of us, who carry a firearm, as our Constitution permits us, qualified with ours? I can't imagine firing a weapon, at least one that I am not used to, in a situation as Mr. Senneca had to, and performing to the standard.

It's just too bad, they lost two dedicated employees that took pride in their jobs and probably didn't make a great deal of $$$.

Peace be with you,
Alex ~~ Washington, D.C.

Chris Miller said...

Bernie
Did you read what I said. The county is free to make their own policy and I hope I never read that something went wrong in a court room in Northampton County and a guy like Sam gets killed or maimed. You and I both know that strange things do happen. That building is not impervious to bad acts by bad people. As to the sheriff's department, I see older men down there with a gun and I do hope they know how to use it. I was happpy to read that they did have to qualify twice a year that will keep their practice rounds up and make them a better and more accurate officer if they ever have to pull that weapon. I'd honestly like to see the whole story on these guys. Did they ever have to carry weapons? Did they ever have to qualify? Did they know about this ahead of time? That sheriff's office has been interesting from time to time. I have to deal with them every five years to get a concealed carry permit and they take their good old time getting it to you. That should be instantaneous because they have access to my records on NCIS just like gun dealers.

Chris Miller said...

Alexander from DC
I am well aware of the famous never bring a gun to a knife fight. I was impressed with James Coburn's scene where he beat the bad guy with a gun hitting him with a knife in the Magnificent Seven. I know that wasn't just Hollywood. That said, I would hope that I would be able to take the measure of the situation, and act appropriately. While a bit older I still carry a fair amount of heft and remain agile. Not only that, I know enough to carry something that can come into action under the circumstances that I find myself involved in at the moment so I make my selections carefully. I like living and I do not advse anyone to make any rash moves during a bad situation. But if I suspect that someone is going to do me harm despite the fact that I give him my money, I will look for an opening and act accordingly. I do keep myself in condition to do that. But, and I mean this sincerely, thanks for the very true and sound advise and the fact that if you carry you should make sure you are familiar with the weapon.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Did you read what I said. Yes I did. Your remarks are very insenstive, especially since you claim to know both Sam and his son. Not one expression of sympathy for Sam or recognition of his many years of service. What's worse, you presume that you're an expert on bullpen security and know more than those who have already decided why it is not appropriate to arm people around prisoners.

I am genuinely disppointed in you, Chris. I thought you were better than that.

Chris Miller said...

Bernie
I think you need to read or re-read The Fountainhead. You sound like Ellsworth Toohey. I would think that Sam senior is more then ready for retirement. He has a postal workers pension, he will have one from the county and social security. And you want me to boohoo over that. As to my having expertise on the so called bullpen security, maybe I can make it clearer, I really don't care if Sam or anyone else has a gun in there or not. It is up to the county to establish that. I worry about my security and I really do not care what others do. Oh and are you going to answer my questions in my previous comment. I have yet to see Sam come out and claim victim status or are you representing him in that category?

Anonymous said...

The County Executive has complete authority over the day to day operations of the Sheriff's Department. What Bernie refers to with respect to the influence the Court has on the office is this. The Home Rule Charter essentially gives the President Judge veto power over the selection of a Sheriff. Therefore, if the Sheriff is in the good graces of the PJ, the CE has to play ball. With all that being said, Bernie if you think this Deputies were treated unfairly. You should not exempt Stoffa from blame.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 5:09,

I am unclear as to exactly how this was carried out and who was involved. On paper, the exec certainly has the supervisory authority. But deputies work in the courtrooms,and judges are not bashful about making their wishes known. On top of that, there is a lot of inner-department politics, perhaps more so than anywhere else in the county. But I suspect neither the judges nor the exec had much to do w/ this decision, which is terrible for the morale of the county workforce. I believe they were presented w/ a fait accomplis, but admittedly am weak on details.

If Stoffa was able to stop this but let it happen anyway, I will definitely fault him. Same for the judges. But I suspect these two were being squeezed out for some reason. Age? Union or anti-union sentiment? If it's bc they failed a firearms exercise, are they bound by a policy that probably was not in place when they were hired? Has the union filed a grievance? There are lots of unanswered questions. Some of this blog's readers know these answers. I hope one of them enlightens me.

Chris Miller said...

Bernie
If these men were in the union they had to know that they had to qualify with weapons twice a year. Had they ever carried a firearm in their capacity as a deputy? If something like this came out in a new contract the union would have addressed it, I presume, in a notification to its members. Something like qualifying with a weapon would have been the talk of the courthouse.If it was something new and these men were not told they certainly would have a discrimination case against someone. Then again, I am not a lawyer so you tell me if they do.

Bernie O'Hare said...

If these men were in the union they had to know that they had to qualify with weapons twice a year.

Really? I'm pretty sure the deputies' contract is still in arbitration.

Had they ever carried a firearm in their capacity as a deputy?

Sam never carried a weapon.

Chris Miller said...

Bernie
Well given that news about the contract, I would say that something is rotten in Denmark or in this case, Northampton County. I will tell you that in a discussion with my better half that I was informend that the unceremonious walk out is the way things are now done. Remember the secretary in Nazareth who was given the same treatment. I suppose neither man is saying a word until they talk to their lawyer. We have become a vulgar society in more then one way.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Vulgar? You demonstrate that very nicely. You made some tremendously insensitive reamrks about someone you claim to know. You offer no words of sympathy. Shame on you. You've also been quite ignorant. You're no expert on prison security, unions or employment law but have made some ignorant statements.

Anonymous said...

unfortunatly, if it is a requirement of the job it is a requirement of the job. You cannot give someone an exemption on the requirement and not expect everyone else to want the same thing. Everyone must be treated the same. I assume the officers must also pass a drug/alcohol test, get where I am going? Perhaps if the two involved would go to a shooting range to practice a bit before the test they could pass easily. Thanks Henry

you wish you knew said...

If you would OPEN your eyes the deputies working the "bullpen" DO wear weapons including a firearm. Stop this debate rules and policies change.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Actually, they did not wear weapons until very recently. I don't know all the details, but I'm beginning to piece it together. And people are not going to like what I'm finding out.

you wish you knew said...

Bernie,

There was only one that did not wear a weapon there.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Yes, and he was usually the only person in the bullpen. What has happened and how it has happened is shameful. I thought unions existed to protect jobs, not take them away. Were you looking to make room for a pal? This needs a spotlight, and it's going to get it.

you wish you knew said...

Bernie,

I agree the way it was done is a shame for two guys that gave yrs to the county. But you need deputies with firearms to protect the public in and out of the courthouse. Jut remember the name Brian Nichols for example. If you think they fired him to make room for a "pal" thats on you.

Chris Miller said...

Bernie
When it comes to unions and what they do I think I can hold my own. I did major work on a guy named Samuel Gompers and an organization that at the time was needed known as the AF of L. Gompers happens to be a hero in my personal view. I was also a member of the BEA, NEA, and PSEA and worked on negotiating the 1977 contract. I left the unions in 1980 because they were constantly adding non-union issues to their agenda such as gay rights, abortion rights and who was to sit on SCOTUS. Meanwhile they were backing the hiring of Special Ed teachers to replace content oriented teachers.
It is wrong for you to imply that some how I am a vulgar individual because I do not come out with some syrupy words expressing my sorrow for someone. I simply am not that type of person, This does not mean I am not concerned about what has happened to them particulary the fact that they were apparently goose stepped out of the courthouse.
As for your comments pertaining to unions taking care of people, in the days of Gompers, that was true today not so much. No longer a dues paying guy, tough luck. They don't want to see you. When steel went down in Bethlehem did you see all their brothers cut down on hours so that those going out the door could stay and work? No.And let me be the first to point out that the blame for steels demise can be spread equally between both sides.
As to not knowing me, calling me an example of vulgarity and that I have no expertise in security, something I never even hinted at because I would be the first to state that I have no such expertise, is a beyond the pale on your part and uncalled for on this matter. I asked questions and made statements of concern simply citing that others do have armned guards in the courtroom. Whether or not that is a good idea is simply debatable. You use it to slam someone who doesn't agree with you or doesn't appear to be as compassionate as you. That's a real shame on you.
All that said I am looking forward to what you turn up on this matter and what needs to be done about it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Chris, I'm sorry, but you were very insensitive to people you calim to know and offered not one word of sympathy for them or their situation. I stand by what I said. Disagree all you want, but expect to be taken to task when you ignore the humanity of others.

Chris Miller said...

Bernie
Not only do I not accept you conclusion about being taken to task for supposedly being insensitive, I certainly will not be taken to task by anyone who cares to slander me in that manner. How do you make such a judgement when you have no idea what is in someone's heart?