PRINCETON – On any given day, a Mercer County Sheriff’s Deputy could be working as a bailiff in the court system, working with a K-9 unit to track down a criminal or patrolling the roads. Every day is different, and that is what Lieutenant Jesse Ruble, Mercer County Sheriff’s Department, appreciates about his department.
“The biggest thing with this job is that there are a ton of possibilities, it is all what you make of it,” Lt. Ruble said. “Even with our department, that is on the fairly small size, we offer many different opportunities throughout the department. I think that is something that our department does offer, is a vast assortment of different positions throughout it. It is not just, come in, you are going to be stuck in this position, you have different goals that you can strive for here.”
The Mercer County Sheriff’s Department is accepting applications now, through June 6, the day of the physical agility test at Concord University. The department requires a high school diploma, or equivalent and a physical examination before taking the agility test.
“Typically, what we do is an application process once we get enough applications in, we will set up a test,” Lt. Ruble said. “This time we are actually trying something different, we are leaving the application process open through the date of the test. If people still want to pick up applications, they can just bring them that day. There is a medical physical that they will have to have filled out by a doctor, basically just confirming that they are medically sound to take the test.”
Lt. Ruble is supervising the recruitment and hiring process at the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department. If recruits pass the agility test, they will move on to a written examination. Reflecting on his time as a recruit, he shared some of what the department is looking for in its recruits.
“We look for recruits that are self-motivated, someone that is career-oriented,” Lt. Ruble said. “I have just gotten my 19th year in and we have definitely seen a change in the type of applicants we are getting. With that, we have had to change our recruiting methods. Our requirements are a high school diploma or the equivalency, 18 years or older, military service is not required, but it does help in the process.”
The Mercer County Sheriff’s Department is aiming to get three to four new recruits through this hiring process. Of course, at some point in the process, a background check will be performed.
“Once you get through the hiring process here, it is typically anywhere from three to six months roughly, once you are hired we bring you in and try to acclimate you to the department as far as our different policies and procedures,” Lt Ruble explained. “That typically will go on for a couple of months until we can get them into the State Police Academy, in W.Va. everyone goes to that same academy in Institute, W.Va.”
The State Police Academy offers three, 16-week sessions per year. Recruits will spend Monday through Friday training in the “para-military academy,” according to Ruble who attended the academy when he was 23 years old.
“It was eye-opening. I had never been in the military or anything like that before. It is rough but you just understand that everything that goes on is for a reason. It is to make you a better police officer,” Lt. Ruble said. “They do a lot of physical training up there. Honestly, I think we have one of the best training academies in the country.”
Once the recruit finishes their training at the academy and receives their certification, they will return home and finish their field training with a senior officer for a few months.
“Usually, we will still have them with another officer following them to calls and stuff,” Lt. Ruble said. “Our biggest thing is that we do not want to put someone out there too quickly because with law enforcement you never know from one call to the next, what is it going to be?”
Deputy M.C. Altice, has worked for the department for a little more than three years
Altice said he arrives at the sheriffs department at 7 a.m. and meets with the night shift team. They go over what happened the night before and ongoing investigations that day shift members need to be informed about.
“Normally in the mornings I try to finish up paperwork but this morning I had court,” Altice said. “Then from there, if we are not answering calls we grab a stack of civil orders or warrants and go out do those duties in-between calls.”
During a recent ride-along by the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Altice received a call across radio about a security alarm going off at a small business in Bluewell. Even though the call was quickly resolved by the business owners, Altice still rode by to make sure everything was fine.
“The majority of alarms are false alarms but we still always go to them as quickly as possible just for that 10-percent chance that something might actually being going on and hopefully we can stop anything like that,” Altice said.
A “Be On The Look Out” or BOLO call, rang out across the radio. An SUV was being sought after being stolen from the owner in Mercer County. Altice immediately began to search by riding by “hotspots” or places where stolen cars had been located before.
While trying to help locate the stolen SUV, a broken down vehicle with a man, woman, and child was stranded on the side of the road. Altice quickly turned his vehicle around and stopped to see if he could help. The occupants of the vehicle had already called for help but was grateful for the deputy’s concern. The young child that was in the vehicle received a sticker badge that Altice keeps in the truck of his patrol car.
“We all live in Mercer County so we all are invested in the well being of Mercer County,” Altice said while talking about the importance of community policing. The department tries its best to help the community in other ways other than focusing on criminal activity.
Lt. Ruble said that he tries to come in with an open mind each time he arrives for his shift. He also said that an open mind is vital when he is answering calls in the field. “You can not go into it with any kind of preconceived notions because no one call is going to be the same as the last,” Lt. Ruble said.
“Our days are definitely not vanilla, there is always something different,” Lt. Ruble said. “There is really not a normal day. Honestly, from minute to minute, it can change. I have had days where we would be out at a kid’s birthday party one minute and the next minute we are at a domestic call somewhere. Personally, that is one of the things that always intrigued me about the job, what that it is always different, nothing it ever the same. You never fall into that stale-mate because there is always something that you could be doing.”
The most rewarding aspect of his nearly two decades at the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department is when Lt. Ruble feels that he was able to make a difference in his community.
“That feeling that you made a difference,” Lt. Ruble said. “I have had people come back to me later and say, ‘You arrested me and changed my life.’ At first, you don’t really feel like you’re making a difference, then someone comes up to you and says, ‘three years ago you sent me to jail and it changed my life, I am clean and sober, I’ve gotten my kids back and my life is on a different path now. It does make you feel good.”
The Mercer County Sheriff’s Office not only handles law enforcement but, as required by W.Va. State Code, the department is responsible for many civil day to day duties.
“We handle court security, so we have bailiffs in different courts,” Lt. Ruble said. “We do civil process service and mental hygiene service, so that is the stuff that the public doesn’t see that required by state code, we have to supply and that is why recruiting and retention are so important to us because you take a large department and they lose an officer, they do not feel it as much as us. We can lose one officer here and it will completely change our whole dynamic.”
The Mercer County Sheriff’s Department covers approximately 420 square miles and protects nearly 60,000 citizens. According to their hiring pamphlet, a Mercer County Deputy Sheriff must maintain a high state of readiness, both mentally and physically to meet the demands of their job. They must also cultivate partnerships in the community and put others ahead of themselves.
“Anyone interested in applying can pick up an application through the County Clerk’s office,” Lt. Ruble said. “They can contact me or one of the other officers here at the Sheriff’s Department, we would be glad to make arrangements to get them an application. We would sit down and answer any questions they have.”