Sheriff cites changes in growing county

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:15

MILFORD - Sheriff Phil Bueki remembers when Pike County used to be a place where you knew most of the people you met every day and Milford folks were proud of the county’s single traffic light. The traffic light is still there, but today the traffic at Broad and Harford streets reflects the change in the pace of life as well as the growth in Pennsylvania’s fastest growing county. New people and new lifestyles have created new problems and this is visible in the court system, where most of Sheriff Bueki’s responsibilities lay. When Bueki became a deputy in 1980, there were two other deputies and they had one official car between them. They had three weeks of initial training and relatively few duties. Today there are 20 officers, 10 vehicles, and deputies take an 800-hour, five month course at Penn State. The department is responsible for security at the court and other county buildings, maintaining a regional bomb squad and a drug-and-search dog. Domestic and family issues go before Court Master Steve Guccini and they have multiplied . “We serve five or six protection orders a day. We used to do 50 or 60 a year.” On the civil side, the department gets an average of 50 to 60 foreclosures a month. In past years there were five or ten. “Houses used to sell for $40,000 or $50,000 at sheriff’s sales; now they’re going for $170,000, $250,000. There was one for $600,000,” he said. There is no regular road patrol. By law, counties of Pike’s size don’t have patrol cars, but deputies enforce vehicle codes when they’re on the road. They’ve written some 50 citations in the first two months of this year. “We see a lot of aggressive driving on roads that can’t handle the volume,” Bueki said. The department transports prisoners to court and the transport numbers are doubling and tripling annually. The volume of cases at the court is “becoming overwhelming,” according to Bueki, pressing Senior Judge Harold Thomson into regular service to assist Judge Joseph Kameen. “(Thomson) is supposed to be retired, but he’s still there,” Bueki noted. But it’s the attitude of people in the court that Bueki admits is the most surprising thing he’s seen in his 26 years service. “Disrespect for authority, for the judge - they’ve had to shut the court down on occasion. It’s staggering. We see assault, criminal contempt, disorderly conduct, people getting re-arrested while they’re still in the court house. The climate change in this county has been huge,” he said. Bueki said the department is constantly playing catch-up with the need. “We’ve been working in ‘extreme’ mode and it’s going to be difficult to keep doing things the way we’ve been doing it,” he said. Things are only going to get more difficult with new growth, he believes. They’re building a development in Lehman Township that’s going to be four times the size of Milford, he said. “When you get four times as many people, you get four times the likelihood of getting bad people.” The increase in civil cases and the fees they generate has allowed Bueki to keep his budget in line up until now, but “it’s going to go through the roof,” he predicted.