Luzerne County Interim Sheriff Jack Robshaw said liability concerns prompted him to disband the department’s volunteer motorcycle unit and dive team.
At least one motorcycle unit member outfitted his private vehicle with warning lights and a county sheriff’s department emblem, which could mistakenly leave the impression the volunteer is a county employee or official, Robshaw said.
Other privately owned motorcycles had warning lights and sheriff-office lettering, he said.
Robshaw said he doesn’t want the public to confuse the volunteers with staff sheriff deputies who must undergo formal law-enforcement training. Motorcycle-unit members were instructed to return their badges, he said.
He also said he received complaints about some volunteers “acting outside their authority” and was concerned the county would be blamed or possibly sued for their actions.
“It’s a liability risk. The fact that we had no direct operational oversight of them created a bad situation,” Robshaw said.
The motorcycle division was created in 1976 by then-Sheriff Frank Jagodinski to provide traffic control and community presence at local events, according to published reports.
The volunteers had to pass background checks, buy their own sheriff uniforms and use their own motorcycles.
Robshaw said about 20 volunteers participated in the motorcycle unit.
Though he praised volunteers for giving up their time, he said municipal police and fire departments can coordinate traffic control with organizers of parades and other events in their jurisdictions.
Jagodinski also was credited for creating the dive team to complete water rescues and searches, published reports say.
Robshaw said the dive unit had a roster of about 10 volunteers but was not actively responding to emergencies as it had in the past.
“Much of the equipment they were using is in a state of disrepair,” Robshaw said.
Robshaw said he checked with the county 911 department and verified other municipal dive teams are available if coverage is needed in a municipality that doesn’t have its own water-rescue unit.
He did not receive feedback about the disbanding from dive-team members but said several volunteers from the motorcycle unit expressed disappointment.
Robshaw said the county’s new home-rule government eliminated the row-officer system that gave elected sheriffs latitude to keep such programs. Robshaw, who is appointed by the manager and serves as county security director, said he and county Manager Robert Lawton concluded disbandment was the best option.
“This isn’t like the old row offices. We have to follow protocol, and any benefit we got from these units was minimal compared to the amount of risk to the county,” he said.