WILKES-BARRE — Rich and Irene Moskaluk never saw it coming.
The Hanover Township couple are members of the Luzerne County Sheriff’s Department Motorcycle Unit that was disbanded last week — a move that shocked the Moskaluks and 20 other members — and left them wondering why.
“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Rich Moskaluk said. “We’re all volunteers. We have our own insurance and we pay all our expenses, including our uniforms.”
The move will put a strain on security workers at some events, such as the Wilkes-Barre Triathlon.
Joanne Gensel, director of the event held annually in Harveys Lake, said it’s not only her event that will be affected; every group that had relied on the motorcycle unit to control traffic and ensure safety of participants will now be scrambling to guarantee their events can be held.
“Municipal police and fire departments only have so many people,” said Gensel. “They really can’t handle the demand of these events.”
She said having uniformed safety personnel is critical. “People tend to listen more to a person in uniform, rather than someone just wearing a vest,” Gensel said. “The uniform makes a big difference. This is a major concern”
Gensel said her committee and other organizations are trying to find out how to offset the sheriff’s department personnel.
Started in 1976
The Moskaluks feel the unit deserved better. Organized in 1976 under the leadership of then Luzerne County Sheriff Frank Jagodzinski, the group has helped out at hundreds of charitable events. Rich Moskaluk, an original member of the unit, said he would have appreciated an opportunity to discuss whatever the county thought was wrong with the unit’s members and/or operation.
“If a couple of members were doing something wrong, we could have fixed the problem,” he said. “We had no discussion, no warning.”
County Sheriff Jack Robshaw said liability concerns prompted him to disband the volunteer motorcycle unit. The risks far outweighed the benefits, he said, and the situation could not be rectified.
The 22-member unit lacked the necessary training for professional law enforcement personnel, Robshaw said. “None of these people were able to meet the standards to operate in a sworn capacity,” he said. “That gives the county great liability exposure. We understand that many of their members have served the county well over the years, but we have to protect the county.”
Robshaw, 53, who has been in law enforcement since 1978, said even if the volunteers were properly trained, the county is too financially strapped to provide oversight. A full-time employee would be needed to supervise the group, said Robshaw, who noted his staff has a difficult time meeting the demands of the courts.
The sheriff said the county was required to have insurance on the volunteers. The group members’ own insurance wasn’t enough to cover the county’s possible exposure, he said.
“There is more to this than meets the eye,” he said.
The group could start its own organization, said Robshaw, or affiliate with municipal fire departments.
Spirit of volunteerism
Dave Corby, president of the Luzerne County A.B.A.T.E. — Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education — said the county’s decision is difficult to understand.
“It’s a shame,” Corby said. “These are all volunteers who bought their own uniforms and who donated their time every weekend to make sure these charitable events are safe.”
The Moskaluks were busy this week contacting the members, asking them to return their sheriff’s department badges.
“We just feel we’re getting a bad rap,” Rich Moskaluk said. “Most of us will probably volunteer at events as private citizens. We enjoy serving our community.”
The Moskaluks and other members of the motorcycle group are considering attending a County Council meeting to ask for an explanation. “I think we deserve that much,” Rich Moskaluk said.