CLEARFIELD – Safety and security are top priority for newly-elected Clearfield County Sheriff Michael Churner.
Churner was sworn into office to fill the position in January, winning the election following former Sheriff Wes Thurston’s decision not to seek re-election. Churner has previously served Clearfield County as chief deputy for three years.
Churner comes into the position with an extensive background in law enforcement. He served 24 years with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, having earned the rank of captain.
Additionally, Churner also successfully completed the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency Sheriff’s Academy and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Academy.
During his career, Churner has received training in advanced drug law enforcement from the University of North Florida; practical crime scene investigation from the National Criminal Justice Academy; child abuse investigation techniques from the Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Institute; hostage negotiations and tactical team response training from the U.S. Department of Justice; narcotics identification from Armor Holdings; explosive device recognition, vehicle and building search techniques from the Department of the U.S. Army; interview and interrogation techniques from the Pennsylvania National Guard; and court security from the University of Delaware.
Churner is also a police firearms expert, having earned his certification from the National Rifle Association and Dickenson School of Law.
He is a certified handgun-shotgun firearms instructor and chemical munitions instructor, and he has completed security threat group training, emergency response training, practical kinesic interview and interrogation training and various continued education courses from Temple University and the Dickenson School of Law.
Churner said his transition into his new role as sheriff has been very smooth. He said he has a good staff and the commissioners and judges have been very supportive.
Since taking office, Churner said his primary focus has been working to enhance security for the courthouse, the annex and the county office buildings.
“I’ve been getting bids to put video surveillance in all three buildings,” Churner said. “My goal is to make it safer for the staff and also for the public.” He said he is working to evaluate the security staff and looking to mandate training for identifying potential threats.
“We’re living in difficult times,” Churner said. “Our area is not immune to the problems that are happening in bigger cities. The (Clearfield County) Commissioners have been very supportive. They recognize the need to improve security and they’ve secured a grant to help with purchasing the new system so I’m thankful for their help.”
Churner said another goal is to improve community relations. He said the deputies have been trying to have a greater presence in outlying areas of the county that do not have local police departments.
He said while patrolling is not a primary function of the sheriff’s office, the deputies have been making their presence known whenever possible.
“The public seems to be grateful,” Churner said. “Some of these areas go weeks without seeing a marked police vehicle. They’ve been very happy to see the deputies in their neighborhoods. It does make a difference.”
In Pennsylvania, sheriff’s deputies have full arrest powers and can cite traffic violations, but they have no investigative powers. If a deputy sees a crime taking place, they are able to handle the situation.
Churner said his biggest challenge has been his budget limitations.
“The department had a lot of overtime hours tied up in serving time-sensitive documents. We can’t always serve them between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. and a lot of these individuals don’t want to be found, so it ties up a lot of time for the deputies to go out and serve these documents within the time allotted by the courts,” he said.
Churner said that he is going to keep the Sheriff’s Posse going, although his appointment as sheriff has meant that he can no longer serve as the commander. He plans to appoint a new commander and the posse members have been issued new identification cards.
Churner isn’t the only new face in the Sheriff’s office. He said he has appointed John Murarik to serve as chief deputy. He said Murarik is a retired state police trooper with 15 years of administration and supervisory experience.
Churner hopes to maintain the positive direction for the department throughout his career and he is thankful to the voters for their support.
“I recognize that the county is in a (financial) deficit,” Churner said. “I want to continue to make improvements to security, but I also want to be a good steward of the taxpayers’ money. I’m very conscious of the budget and I will continue to work within that budget as best I can.”