By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
TAZEWELL, Va. —
This month, Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt will mark his 24th year in law enforcement, and recall all the changes his profession has seen ever since he first put on a uniform.
Hieatt became sheriff in January 2012. He has served for years at the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office, but this agency was not the town of Tazewell native’s first place of employment. After graduating from Tazewell High School, Hieatt attended Southwest College and its police academy, and later earned a bachelors degree from Bluefield College and a master’s degree in counseling from Liberty University.
Even while taking all the classes necessary to earn his degrees, Hieatt knew what he wanted to do with his life.
“When I was in school, and even when I was in middle school, I wanted to be in law enforcement because I thought it would be a job where I would be doing something different all the time,” Hieatt recalled. “And that you’re always seeing different things and being involved in different parts of the community. I always thought it would be an interesting job, and all through high school, that’s what I wanted to do. Right after I graduated high school I started applying. When I started work at the town, I was just 19 years old.”
In 1990, Hieatt became a patrolman with the Tazewell Police Department. He soon moved on to other opportunities.
“I worked there just a couple of years, and then they had a position open up in DARE at the sheriff’s office, and the couple of years I had worked at the town, I had been involved in some programs with children and really enjoyed it. So when the position opened to work with children at the sheriff’s office, I applied for it and got hired,” Hieatt said. “For the next 10 years at the sheriff’s office I worked as a deputy sheriff, and I also worked with the DARE program in the schools and really enjoyed it.”
Hieatt worked for the sheriff’s department for 10 years and became a sergeant before another job opened at the Town of Tazewell Police Department.
“I worked 10 years doing that and became a sergeant. That’s when the chief of police job opened in the town and I applied for that, and was lucky enough to get that,” he said. “For the next seven years I was chief of police until I decided to come back over here.”
Being a problem solver is one of the aspects Hieatt likes in his law enforcement profession.
“I’ve seen a lot of things,” he said. “It’s always dealing with something different, a different problem. I like solving problems and getting in the midst of problems; a problem where you have to try and help somebody or help a situation. When you’re doing an investigation, you’re trying to think outside the box. What’s a way to attack this investigation and find the right answer, and be faster than the people you’re trying to catch? You’re trying to stay one step ahead of them. It keeps you interested in the job.”
One challenge the sheriff’s department faces is one facing law enforcement agencies across the nation. The sale of controlled substances like pain medication, and the addiction to them, fuels even more crimes such as breaking and entry.
“One of our problems in the county, just like all across the nation, is the drug problem, and that’s a problem for us to combat because there’s so much of it,” Hieatt said. “It takes so long to do an investigation. We do a lot of indictments and a lot of charges, but that doesn’t hit everything that’s out there. One person you could be investigating, distributing drugs, may take six months to a year.”
Doing undercover operations and gathering the evidence needed to bring one drug case to court is time consuming; meanwhile, other crimes are still being committed.
“While you’re spending all that time on one case, there are several others that you can’t get to. That’s a challenge, but I think we’ve done really well with what we’re doing to combat it. We’ve been hitting some really big targets that we’ve arrested over the last couple of years. We’ve been doing good, but it’s a challenge always,” Hieatt said.
Many other crimes are fueled by the drug problem. Deputies have to handle a lot of copper and other metal thefts. In one instance, thieves were cutting phone wires and stripping the metal out of them, Hieatt said.
“In a lot of these crimes, they’re not stealing this copper and metal, and going to trade it in so they can put food on the table,” he said. “It’s to get drugs.”
Incidents sparked by the drug trade often consume a lot of time. In one case, a woman reported that she had been robbed at gunpoint and that her friend had been abducted.
“Seven hours later, and going through all the lies and things, it was a drug deal gone bad,” Hieatt said. “She was selling drugs, he didn’t want to pay, and he did not abduct her friend. She was mad at her friend, and when we found her friend, she was under the influence of drugs.”
All three people were arrested and charged with drug possession, possession of a firearm, obstruction of justice and other crimes.
“So we had three different stories, all three of them had lies in them, and all three of them ended up getting charged,” Hieatt recalled. “A lot of officers’ time and effort was used all because of a drug deal gone bad.”
Hieatt said he likes not only problem solving, but also helping to bring new ideas to the sheriff’s office.
“I enjoyed the years when I was chief of police. I enjoyed that immensely, running the police department and trying new ideas, and that’s what I’ve tried to do,” he stated. “Not doing just what you have to do, but going above and beyond that.”
While at the Town of Tazewell Police Department, Hieatt started a citizens police academy. Officers taught classes one night a week for 12 weeks on subjects such as domestic violence and drugs being seen in the communities. He plans to have the sheriff’s office host citizens meetings throughout Tazewell County in April and May.
“I want to do more things all around Tazewell County. One project we’re working on in Tazewell County is citizen meetings,” he said.
The meetings will be hosted in 12 locations throughout the county.
“It will be where citizens can come in for two nights, and learn more about the things we do and what’s going on in their community; because even though we’re one county, there are a lot of different things that go on from one end to the other in the different communities,” Hieatt said. “I like people to know that we’re not just out here driving down the street. We have so many different programs from the litter pick up to the DARE Program, 911; we have so many things that we do.”
One important ingredient in a law enforcement career is having a supportive family that understands the long work hours and sacrifices that have to be made. Hieatt said his wife, Davina, and sons Landon, Tanner and Parker have been very supportive. His oldest son, Landon, is now studying criminal justice at Southwest College.
“That’s what he grew up with. From the time he was born, I was a police officer,” Hieatt said. “It’s what he’s seen growing up all through his life, and I guess that’s why he wants to do that.”
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org