Emergency Preparedness & Response in Wyoming County

By Sheriff Gregory J. Rudolph, Wyoming County
Wyoming County has a population of over 42,000 and over 600 square miles. It is a beautiful, rural and agricultural county where the adage “there are more cows than people” is true. However, the challenges to the Sheriff's Office and the other Law Enforcement Agencies are as prevalent as any other community in the State. Heroin, mental health calls, sex offenses, domestic violence and traffic safety dominate our workload. As the landscape of law enforcement continues to evolve to include a more prepared response for incidents such as: active shooter, terrorist attacks and environmental catastrophes, the Wyoming County Sheriff's Office's most valuable prepared response tool is the “take home car.” Including the Sheriff and Undersheriff, there are 30 full-time sworn officers of various Deputy Sheriff ranks and assignments. Of those thirty members, 26 are assigned a “take home car.” The four excluded are assigned to the Court Security Unit. It is an important note that the “take home car” is NOT a commuter car; it is designed for everyone to hit the ground running, to be on Post even before leaving the driveway. No one is out of service and at the office for shift change; it is a rolling shift change that occurs throughout the county.

Having the ability to immediately respond is an imperative tool to our preparedness. Over the years there have been countless incidents that have resulted in an emergency call out for staff. Fortunately, most of them have been for weather related reasons. Sometimes it's a few members and on occasion it's the majority. Regardless, that member is immediately on duty, ready and able to respond. The cars, whether marked or unmarked, are not equipped perfectly, but are equipped adequately. They all have Computer Aided Dispatch with Automatic Vehicle Location (GPS), emergency lighting and flares, most have AEDs, most have patrol rifles and other emergency response equipment. I believe in the “closest car policy” in its truest sense in an emergency. This dispatching policy is too often referred to as an agency-to-agency policy such as the Sheriff's Office and State Police, but it is my firm belief it should be utilized internally as well. When one has an emergency, they not only don't care what police agency arrives, they also don't care what rank or assignment that officer has. They just want help and if we are going to provide that help, we need the vehicle and equipment to provide it.

In 1972, the Wyoming County Sheriff's Office had nine police cars in the fleet (three were “take home cars”) and four were replaced every year. Today, we have 26 cars assigned to officers and five are replaced every year. In 2005, the Wyoming County Board of Supervisors' Chairman of the Public Safety Committee, John Copeland (also retired  Undersheriff) made a report studying the “take home car” program in Wyoming County. In the report, he recounts his days as a patrol Deputy, “I remember sitting in the office for up to two hours waiting for a vehicle to start my shift.” These stories are not unheard of, even today.

The “take home car” program began in the mid-1980s when there weren't as many personnel and the startup costs were much less with much less equipment. The foresight of Sheriff Allen Capwell (retired) and the Wyoming County Board of Supervisors then is remarkable. The commitment of the current Board of Supervisors to emergency preparedness and the operational readiness of the Sheriff's Office is just as remarkable. In the July 2016 Wyoming County Board of Supervisors' Public Safety Committee Meeting, there were community members of the Leadership Wyoming Class in attendance and the Chairman of Board, A. Douglas Berwanger, requested I outline the “take home car” program for the guests in attendance, which I gladly did. Upon closing the topic of discussion, Chairman Berwanger said, “over the years, the Board has been questioned on occasion about the viability of the program by the taxpayers and I tell you, this program has proven itself over and over again.”

In the spring of 2015, the State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services came to Wyoming County for our County Emergency Preparedness Assessment (CEPA). From a law enforcement standpoint, it was clear our ability to quickly deploy from anywhere in numbers was our number one asset. In a small rural county mostly patrolled with just three Deputies and where specialized units (tactical, bomb, aviation) are not realistic for our workload or budget, we still must “hold the line” until we can resolve the emergency or get that mutual aid needed. Having a “take home car” program that is properly equipped gives us an operational readiness to deploy a professional police force to any emergency whether an officer is on duty or off.