NEW CUMBERLAND - The race for Hancock County sheriff pits two longtime lawmen from Weirton against each other - one with a background in detective work, the other with expertise in investigating accidents and children's crimes.
Ronald P. Haggerty Sr., 61, who won the Republican primary in May, said he wants to increase the police presence in the county through more patrols. "I want to build a good rapport between the sheriff's department and the people in the county," he said, "whether it be Newell, Chester or Lawrenceville."
Democratic candidate Ralph A. Fletcher, 60, said his priorities include more drug enforcement and improving staffing levels, including more felony investigators. "Manpower is an area where I'd like to see changes occur - not just increasing it but moving officers to different areas of responsibility," he said. "It keeps officers fresh."
Haggerty and Fletcher, both of Weirton, are campaigning to fill the spot that will be left by the departing Sheriff Mike White, who is prohibited by state law from seeking a third term. White is running for Hancock County magistrate.
Both men tout their years of experience with the Weirton Police Department as their chief qualification for the county-wide office.
Haggerty's start in police work came by way of a theft investigation he conducted for his former employer, a vending company, at Weirton Steel. A Weirton police lieutenant reviewed the case and suggested Haggerty consider law enforcement as a career.
Haggerty worked as a patrol officer for about four months and then went into the plain-clothes detective division, where he worked for 17 years. Haggerty retired with 21 years under his belt, even serving for a time while Fletcher was chief.
Haggerty, who now runs a convenience store in Weirton with his wife, said he decided to run for sheriff because of his love of policing.
Campaigning for the primary and the Nov. 6 election, Haggerty said he has talked to a lot of residents who want to see more patrols. "The people in the county depend on the sheriff's department," he said. "I learned a long time ago that the better rapport you have with the public, the easier it is to do your job. They help solve a lot of crimes."
One example of that is drug enforcement, he said. "You need information flowing in to help do a better job in the fight against drugs. That's a priority," he said.
Other priorities for Haggerty are boosting the sheriff's reserves and expanding the Prevention Resource Officer program. The latter is a program that puts two sheriff's deputies in Oak Glen Middle School and High School and two in Weirton Middle School and High School.
Haggerty said he would like to expand the program to county elementary schools. For those who think that's too young, Haggerty said, "If you get to them and build a rapport with them when they're young, ... it will help deter them if they befriend a police officer."
Fletcher got his start in law enforcement in 1977 as a Weirton police officer. He served 10 years in the detective division and four years - 1998-2002 - as chief of police. Currently, he is chief investigator for the Hancock County Prosecutor's Office.
While chief, Fletcher was responsible for 45 sworn officers and 19 civilian employees, as well as the department's budget. "That's experience that most people who've run for this position in the past did not have," he said.
It was as a Weirton patrolman that Fletcher came to specialize in accident investigations and accident reconstructions, becoming certified as an expert in the field. As a detective, he specialized in crimes against children.
"I just want to take all this experience I have and expand on it through (the sheriff's) department," he said. "I've really enjoy my time in law enforcement. I see this as an opportunity to continue my career in that chosen field."
Fletcher especially wants to expand drug enforcement, certain assignments for officers and training for officers.
"The drug problem has changed over the years, to where almost all our personal crimes ... are related directly or indirectly to our drug problems," he said. "We need to look at the whole picture, which includes the property crime part of it."