NEW CUMBERLAND - By introducing the rank of lieutenant to the Hancock County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Ralph Fletcher said he hopes to improve oversight of each shift and, by extension, service to the public.
"If (officers) have the stripes, I want them to take more responsibility - not only for their crew but also for the running of the department," Fletcher said.
On Friday, the sheriff's department took a big step toward Fletcher's goal of changing the rank structure with the swearing in of five new lieutenants. First Judicial Circuit Court Judge Ronald E. Wilson administered the oath of office to:
First Judicial Circuit Court Judge Ronald E. Wilson administers the oath of office Friday to, from left, Brian Scott Swan, Art Watson (partly obscured), Chuck Stanley, J.T. Keeder and Mark Cowden. The men will take on new responsibilities as lieutenants with the Hancock County Sheriff's Department. -- Stephen Huba
Lt. J.T. Keeder, 40;
Lt. Brian Scott Swan, 42;
Lt. Charles "Chuck" Stanley, 43;
Lt. Mark Cowden, 49; and
Chief Deputy Art Watson.
With the exception of Watson, the men were promoted from the rank of sergeant after taking the civil service exam in October 2013. All of them have 10 years of service with the department.
"This is really a good day," Fletcher said, "when we can have promotions in the department."
The lieutenants will take on more supervisory responsibilities, assist with the day-to-day operations of the department, help oversee training and performance evaluations, and provide input on policy matters, the sheriff said.
Each shift will have two road deputies, a sergeant and a lieutenant, Watson said. The department currently has 26 sworn officers.
"The road numbers won't change, but they'll be more of a mentor to the officers under them," Watson said. "Everything's going to be the same (with road patrols); we're just going to add more to their plates."
Watson said investigations, the completion of reports and other duties will follow a more clearly-defined chain of command. Previously, deputies often submitted reports to the chief deputy without having them checked by a supervisor, he said.
What's more, the assignment of a higher rank was not always accompanied by a corresponding increase in duties, Fletcher said. That all will change with the new rank system, he said.
"I've got plans for them," Fletcher said following Friday's swearing-in ceremony. "This is not just about a change in jewelry, but a change in expectations from me. This truly makes them a part of my administration, where I will rely on them for the development of policy."
The men who were promoted were four out of six sergeants who tested for the lieutenant's position. Their promotion was based on their test score, a sheriff's evaluation score and their years of seniority.
Watson said he took the lieutenant's test in the event that a change in administration results in him no longer being chief deputy. The chief deputy usually is appointed by the sheriff.
The remaining sergeants - Robert Connors and Dezso Polgar - will soon have company. Fletcher said he hopes to promote at least two deputies to the rank of sergeant. Fifteen deputies took the sergeant's test in October.
Each of the newly-promoted lieutenants, including Watson, will get a $100-a-month raise. Hancock County commissioners approved the raises in October, adding $6,000 to the sheriff's annual budget.
Fletcher has added his imprint to the department with other personnel moves. He recently doubled the size of his detective division by naming Deputy Christopher Waide a detective, along with Detective Matthew Harvey.
In addition, a newly-created civilian division, made up of 15 part-time officers, is now in charge of security and bailiff duties at Hancock County Courthouse. Their work is overseen by Courthouse Security Administrator Thomas Cox, formerly jail administrator.
(Huba can be contacted at email@example.com)