The abuse of so-called civil deputy commissions coupled with the revelation that Mahoning County Sheriff Randall Wellington hasn't even had a list on file of those granted this highly suspect status suggests that regular law-enforcement officers should be the only individuals entitled to carry a badge and identification as a deputy sheriff.
The time has long since past that the well connected could flash a special ID and receive undue courtesy or privilege from a legitimate police officer -- as Columbiana County Democratic Chairman Dennis Johnson recently tried. Mahoning County deputies should afford courtesy to all as a matter of course, but privilege to none.
Wellington has said that civil deputy identification cards are typically issued to people who "just want to be associated with law enforcement." Given the corruption and questionable activities that have been associated with law enforcement in Mahoning County in the past, we don't see "wanting to be associated with law enforcement" as justification for providing special status to almost anyone who asks for it.
Wannabes: There has been plenty enough getting out of jail free around here without commissioning a bunch of cop wannabes to try to take advantage of an assumed privilege.
Bob Cornwell, the executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriff's Association, told The Vindicator that a number of Ohio sheriffs issue part-time, special or volunteer commissions because they can save money by asking volunteer deputies to perform some duties that would otherwise be performed by full-time deputies, such as helping out in a jail. And we're supposed to believe that Johnson and other civil deputies are helping out at the Mahoning County Justice Center.
More to the point, would we even want unqualified hangers-on working in the jail -- not withstanding the background check Wellington says they undergo?
Wellington says that civil deputies often call the sheriff's office to report crimes such as drug dealing and speeding. But do they really need a meaningless ID card and badge to be good citizens?
We don't think so. Neither does Columbiana County Sheriff David L. Smith -- where Johnson actually lives. Smith recognizes the risk that "uncivil" deputies like Johnson pose.
In El Paso, Texas, the honorary deputy commission is a special recognition granted by the sheriff to citizens who have distinguished themselves in the law enforcement and surrounding community through extraordinary deeds or accomplishments which support the mission of the sheriff's office. In San Diego, Calif., the Honorary Deputy Sheriff's Association is a prestigious organization of business and community leaders which has presented over $2 million in special training and equipment to San Diego County law enforcement.
Mahoning County's civil deputies have no such worthy purpose. Once Wellington gets together his list of those with civil commissions, he should send them all nice letters thanking them for their service -- if any -- and informing them that henceforth only sworn law enforcement officers will be identified as Mahoning County deputy sheriffs.