Greg Miller, Mercer County Sheriff’s Office deputy, validates a warrant on a laptop in a police cruiser with Dave Moyer, Mercer County Sheriff’s Office deputy, outside of the sheriff’s office in Mercer.

MERCER – During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercer County Sheriff’s deputies have had to transport fewer suspects from jail to hearings, which has freed deputies to apprehend more fugitives on warrants and carry out protection from abuse orders.

Sheriff’s deputies have brought 49 fugitives to justice since June.

In a split vote Thursday, county commissioners gave the sheriff’s office clearance to maintain that momentum by approving the replacement of a retiring deputy.

Commissioner Matt McConnell was the dissenting vote. 

“It was nothing personal, I was just hoping to defer the hiring so we could have a discussion about it,” McConnell said. “This is not going to result in a cage match back in the commissioner’s office. It’s just difference in opinion at this time.”

Commissioner Tim McGonigle said it was not a fiscal decision, but a public safety issue.

“We have hundreds and hundreds of warrants that haven’t been served since February 2017,” McGonigle said. “Sheriff Rosa has instituted a two-man team this year and now they’re serving those warrants.”

McGonigle said the increased warrant activity was a reason he approved filling the vacant deputy position.

“And we’re going to continue to do that,” McGonigle said.

Commissioner Scott Boyd said he based his vote on a discussion he had with Sheriff Bruce Rosa.

“He persuaded me that, even though we’ve seen some reduction in needs in different areas due to COVID that changes their job requirements, he’s reallocated those appropriately and they are finding other needs that need filled by them as well,” Boyd said.

McGonigle and Boyd agreed it was necessary to maintain the deputy force, even though the county no longer has to transport most prisoners between the jail and the courthouse because a lot of the court’s business is being conducted by video during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The decreased transportation demand allowed Rosa to move two deputies from transport to serving warrants. The sheriff said that change is important.

“My argument is, it’s not to be dismissed because behind every warrant is a victim,” Rosa said. “There’s a victim waiting for justice to be done in their case, and while these criminals are out roaming around freely, these people are turning into another victim because of that. So we’re out there pounding on doors and searching houses.”

Mercer County has 15 full-time and six part-time deputies, with the sheriff, chief deputy, lieutenant, captain and sergeant. The commissioners’ action Thursday does not increase the department’s size, but merely fills a vacancy created by a retiring deputy.

Rosa said he had no ill will toward McConnell’s vote against filling the position.

“They wanted more discussion on that. It wasn’t argued over or anything,” Rosa said. “Matt said he just wanted to hang off and see if we could talk about that later.”

In addition to the increased warrant activity, Rosa said he placed a deputy at a district magistrate’s office on criminal hearing days and assigned a deputy dedicated to executing protection from abuse orders, which have been increasing. 

“There’s a lot involved in that,” Rosa said. “It’s not like you just hand somebody a civil paper, but a lot of times, you’ve got evictions, you’ve got confiscation of firearms, you’ve got children being taken away from people. So when these deputies serve PFAs, there’s a lot of work involved.”

Follow Melissa Klaric on Twitter and Facebook @HeraldKlaric, email: mklaric@sharonherald.com