CLEARFIELD – An unorthodox idea could have many benefits for citizens of Clearfield County.
When Clearfield County Sheriff Wes Thurston publicly announced his intention to form a posse of volunteers, feelings were mixed. However, as residents are stepping up to answer the call, the benefits are starting to become clear.
Thurston and Chief Deputy Mike Churner said there has been a lot of interest from county residents in joining the posse.
“It’s a very large county,” Thurston said. We need quite a lot of volunteers.” Thurston and Churner said they are looking for about 500 volunteers willing to serve on the posse.
Thurston said he and Churner have divided the county into five areas, or units. Five of his deputies will serve as unit commanders who will oversee each unit.
Thurston said Churner will serve as the posse commander who will direct the unit commanders. Volunteers are needed from all parts of the county.
Thurston said the idea of forming the posse was something that came to him several months ago. He said he and Churner began working on the details of forming the posse in November.
“Any time there’s someone missing, whether it’s a hunter or a child, you need a lot of people to conduct these searches,” Thurston said.
“We’re hoping people will understand that it’s something they can become involved in that will not only help the county, but it will also bring people together. You’ll have people from all different parts of the county coming in and working together and getting to know each other.”
Any residents interested in volunteering are required to fill out an application.
“This is something that has been carefully planned,” Thurston said. “The application and screening process has been reviewed by attorneys. Anyone applying to be part of the posse will have a criminal history records check, a driver’s history check, a background check and any other necessary investigations to ensure they are qualified to serve as a posse member.”
Thurston said in the event that the posse needs to be deployed, the sheriff or the chief deputy will be contacted and they will decide how many people are needed and what area of the county they are needed in.
He said the sheriff or chief deputy will then mobilize the unit commander and posse members. Written instructions will be given to the commanders, as well as to the posse members, outlining what they will be doing and an estimate of how long they may be deployed. Thurston said all posse activities will be documented by the sheriff.
Thurston and Churner said just because a resident has filled out an application, does not guarantee they will become a member of the posse. They said applications will be accepted and reviewed until they get enough qualified members for each unit of the county and they will also form a reserve list.
“We’re hoping to get some more women to sign up,” Thurston said. “When we’re looking for children, sometimes they’re (the child) more likely to respond to a woman, than to a man.
“We’re also hoping some qualified fire department personnel will apply. Those people (firefighters) are very valuable and have experience doing searches.” Experience in law enforcement or the military is not necessary, but preference may be given to individuals with a law enforcement or military background.
He said in addition to searches, the posse may also be called on to respond in a limited capacity, in the event of a natural disaster or any other purpose that is deemed necessary.
Thurston also addressed some concerns some may have about the posse, particularly about guns.
“Guns are not a requirement,” Thurston said. “Posse members are not law enforcement officials. They have no arrest powers except what is given as ordinary citizens. They are only assisting the sheriff’s department at the sheriff’s request.
“As sheriff, it is my duty to uphold our constitutional rights. If the posse members want to carry guns and they have the appropriate permits, they have that right under the Second Amendment. They are not required to have a gun or to obtain a permit to be part of the posse.”
Thurston said those who are selected to serve on the posse are required to have a black shirt and a black jacket. Members of the posse will have the option to purchase a black sheriff’s posse cap, once they have officially become members.
Thurston said it will take a few months to review the applications and to make the appropriate clearance checks, but he is hoping to have the posse in place by February. He said he is planning to hold periodic training exercises and “mock” searches for each unit to give the members training and experience.
“It will give the members training, but it will also get them used to working with the deputies who will be commanding the units, and give them the opportunity to get to know each other,” Thurston said.
Anyone interested in becoming a member of the posse can pick up applications at the courthouse, most local gun and/or sporting goods stores, as well as other local businesses. Those with questions or requests for further information can call 814-756-2641, Ext. 2159 or 2160.
Click to view and download the Clearfield County posse application.