The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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July 6, 2014

Older cop, younger cop

Retired sergeant, patrolman talk job then, now

SHARON — The sergeant who retired more than a decade ago agrees with the patrolman in mid-career on the police force in Sharon. Technology and the local economy have changed the way they do their job but keeping the community safe can occasionally be dangerous for the law enforcement professionals who do the work.

Dave Gregg began working for Sharon Police Department shortly after his discharge from the Army in 1968. Sharon’s population was about 25,000 and the 40-member force was big enough in those days to dispatch two patrolmen in each cruiser.

Mark Hynes came to Sharon four years ago and works as a patrolman. He has backup when he needs it but he usually patrols alone in his cruiser as his co-workers do.

The married father of two young children has 16 years of experience with several Trumbull County police departments. He also had some tactical training at the FBI training center in Quantico, Va., while he was a member of the Mahoning Valley Crisis Response Team.

Rookies like Gregg was more than 40 years ago walked foot patrols through the downtown district.

“If you were on afternoon turn, you walked for eight hours and you checked doors,” he said. “You did a lot of walking in the downtown area until you got some people under you. It wasn’t very exciting.”

Then as now, the work had a routine built around radio calls but there was no 911 countywide dispatching of first responders to emergencies.

During his career that saw him promoted to sergeant supervising shifts and occasionally working as a dispatcher, Gregg said he and other police understood that a risk of danger came with the badge they wore.

“The big things didn’t happen that often but danger was always there,” he said. “You’d go out on a call where there was a fight and when you tried to break it up, they’d call the family in. When it was all over, sometimes there was a gun on the ground.”

Gregg said computer technology and cell phones that link police to databases of useful background information weren’t available for most of his career.

“Our technology was a typewriter and a fingerprinting kit,” he said, laughing. “Nobody then really knew much about what computers could do and nobody had heard of a cell phone.”

Now, a suspect’s history and such details as their previous involvement in drugs or gun crimes can give responding police a heads up on potentially dangerous calls.

Police keep in touch with each other on cell phones.

Technology has its uses but Hynes said dealing with people is as challenging now as it was for earlier generations of police. That’s partly because people they deal with are often unpredictable.

“You don’t know what they’re thinking and you don’t know what their intentions are,” he said. “You don’t know what their mental stability is, so the unknown is part of the danger. When we go into a house, I don’t know what could be hiding around the corner or what they know that I don’t.”

Asked whether his job is more dangerous than policing used to be, Hynes said he didn’t look at the issue that way because he wasn’t working in those years.

“Statistics might show that it’s more dangerous than it was 20 or 30 years ago but I don’t have a frame of reference from 30 years ago,” he said.

Gregg said he thinks the risks are about the same.

“You’re still doing the same job if you’re working today,” he said. “You’re still arresting unwilling people who might want to fight. You’re taking just as much of a chance now as then.”

 

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