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Media > Newsletters > On the Job: Criminal Justice Update > Fall 2018 > Q&A: Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth, chairperson of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commiss

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Q&A: Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth, chairperson of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission (OPOTC)


OPOTC helps the Attorney General’s Office shape training and compliance standards for Ohio peace officers. 

How long have you been working in law enforcement?

I have been serving Fayette County in various positions for 41 years.  I started my law enforcement career with the Washington Court House Police Department in 1981 as a jailer/dispatcher and worked my way up to patrol. I ran for sheriff in 1996 and have been there ever since. …. I truly enjoy serving as sheriff. Meanwhile, I currently serve as treasurer of the National Sheriffs’ Association and sit on the executive board.

What would you say is the role of OPOTC?

The commission’s primary responsibility is minimum standards for training. Minimum standards are prescribed by law as those needed to begin functioning as a peace officer. And that leads into our other responsibility, advanced training. Once an individual has had basic training, he or she has a responsibility to continue enhancing that training. 

Early on, when I came on the commission, one of the problems I saw was that you could come in as a cadet, graduate from an academy, be employed by a police department or sheriff’s office and never set foot in another classroom for the rest of your career. There was no mandate and no incentive to get more training. You were given a gun and a citation pad and told to go out there and enforce the laws. We felt there was a need there, and that was where continuing professional training came in. It gives officers and agencies the incentive to update training on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the Ohio Legislature didn’t fund it for 2018. … The state needs to come up with funding to make it happen. Local agencies have limited funds and need assistance from the Legislature for reimbursement. That money goes into an account to pay for training or to cover the cost of one officer filling in for another who is undergoing training.

What do you strive for as chairperson?

Short meetings! When I first started on the commission, we would sometimes have two grueling days of meetings. I recall getting boxes of curriculums that I would have to research, score, and read every page. At that time, the staff was not there to drive the curriculum review. Today, things are more organized. We have professionals on the Attorney General’s staff who are subject-matter experts, and the legal team is top-notch. The expertise level has increased. Also, the commission listens to the school commanders. When they tell us something isn’t working, we work to fix it.  

How has the curriculum preparation changed?

Today, the curriculum is reviewed systematically and in a compartmentalized way. When it’s time to review the curriculum, the staff will sit down and break it apart and give it to subject-matter experts who will direct the review so we know what is being done in the field. The legal experts come in and say what has been decided by the courts. With the streamlined effort, we are able to make changes immediately, when necessary. 

We could review something in August, but in October, the Supreme Court could come out with a decision that could completely change the law. We are now in a position to change the curriculum quickly and not have to wait for it to cycle through. 

What improvements have you seen in training?

I really like the scenario-based training being offered at OPOTA. That’s the direction we have needed to go for a long time, and I’m glad we are getting there. We should always be striving for better training and new technology.

The driving track is a big bonus. I would like to see more driving because we seem to have a lot of officers nationwide who are killed in the line of duty in traffic crashes. I think that comes from multiple things: the inexperience of pursuit driving, and when you are in a pursuit situation, you get tunnel vision. Our facility can help an officer deal with those situations. 

We also provide free remote training, which is very important. We bring in the driving simulators and the shooting simulators and all agencies have to do is put people in the seats. It’s cost-effective. You don’t have to send someone a hundred miles away and put them up in a hotel. We set it up in an agency’s parking lot and they can run every staff member through it. 

How has technology helped with training?

When I was new to the commission, I remember having discussions about how to bring the classroom to the student. We were not in the age of eOPOTA at that point — that was the dream. Back then, we were only concerned about who was coming out of the classroom right then. The officers already working were just grandfathered in. As technology caught up, we realized we could continually train all 34,000 peace officers using online training. We made the training available to everybody — whether they were full-time, part-time, or auxiliary — if they were carrying a peace officer commission, we wanted to make the training available to them in a cost-effective way.
They no longer had to travel to a classroom. They could sit in their agency’s training center. And now, it has evolved to where they can sit at home and go through the curriculum. That’s a big accomplishment. We are on the threshold of doing even more. 

What are the biggest issues facing law enforcement?

We have seen through history that as society changes, so must law enforcement. Of course, we have a Constitution that doesn’t change. So we have to blend those two so it’s acceptable with the courts and the people. We need to make sure that special interests are not directing law enforcement training. A lot of people want to change how law enforcement functions, but it all has to be constitutional. 

What’s the best piece of advice you would give new cadets? 

I did not have a goal to be in law enforcement. I wanted to teach. But, I was not successful at school. One of my disappointments in life is I didn’t get my college degree. 

I loved high school, but it didn’t prepare me for college. I thought I would go to the military and I would come back and get a job, but when I tried to get in the military, I found out that I had a hearing defect that prevented my entry. It had to be corrected, which took several years, and by then, I was married and wasn’t interested in the military anymore. When I didn’t go to the military, I got a job tossing pizzas.

If you can get an education, do it now. A lot of people come out of high school and say “I want to be a police officer, what do I need to do?” Well, you’re not going to be a police officer at 17. If you’ve got the ability to go to school, then go to school. At least get your associate’s degree. Get that under your belt. If you can get a bachelor’s degree, go for that as well.

There are other avenues to prepare yourself for law enforcement, such as work in the corrections field, dispatching, or taking some remedial courses in English and math at the community college to prepare you to take the academy. 

Also, you need to get in shape. At first, I was not a proponent of the physical fitness requirements to enter an academy. I thought we were eliminating good people who couldn’t run a mile and a half, or do pushups, or situps. But I was looking at it in the wrong perspective. The thing that changed my mind about the physical fitness standard was that we are having too many police officers dying of heart attacks. They exert themselves in an arrest, even if it’s a 30-second struggle, it can cause strain on the heart and cause an officer to have a heart attack. 

I get a notice whenever a police officer dies in the United States and the cause of death. I look at those and when I find out someone has died after overexerting themselves during a rescue or training, I know the heart wasn’t able to take it. We need something to make sure the officers we bring in are able to do their jobs physically and can continue throughout their career.  

Law enforcement is a stressful occupation and proper continuous physical training can help reduce stress and maintain an officer’s overall health. 

Each year, you give a speech at the Ohio Peace Officers’ Memorial service. How do you prepare for that?

It’s an honor to speak to the families. They’ve sacrificed a tremendous amount. The least I can do is speak on behalf of the commission to the survivors. Ever since I’ve been a police officer, I’ve tried to attend as many memorial services as I can. Through the COPS program, I’ve gotten to know a lot of the survivors. It’s very personal.

Every commission member should feel responsible for those officers. We certify the training of every peace officer, and in the back of my mind I’ve wondered what we can do better. When we look at line of duty deaths, we have to think what training would have better prepared that officer to face that incident. Did we miss something? Should we add something to the training? 

Every certificate issued by OPOTA has my signature on it. I’ve been chairman for 12 years, and my signature is on a lot of certificates. With that comes a grave responsibility that someone is functioning as a peace officer in the state of Ohio over my signature, and that is a responsibly that I don’t take lightly. I think the other commission members feel the same. 

What do you imagine for the future for law enforcement training?

I think we are going to see great advances in the sciences, and we are going to have to incorporate that more into basic training. When we are only looking for the smoking gun, we could overlook something. When someone walks into a room, they leave a human print. And what is that human print? Right now it is physical evidence or DNA: a cigarette butt, a fingerprint, a hair follicle. 

I think someday you’ll be able to walk into a crime scene and be able to use a device to listen for the sounds of those who have been there before. Where does sound go? It has to go somewhere? If that soundwave is penetrated in that wall, is there a way to extract that sound from the walls? Also, do we expel DNA when we exhale? Could we eventually have the technology to create a virtual image of the suspect based on that DNA?

Think about where we were 50 years ago, DNA wasn’t part of the equation. You would identify suspects sometimes using blood typing. At one time, fingerprinting was a new science. We can only imagine the next breakthrough.

The Stanforth File

Previous jobs: Comprehensive Employment and Training Act administrator; dispatcher, jailer, patrolman, Washington C.H. Police Department; Fayette County sheriff

Education: OSP Training Academy, FBI National Academy, National Sheriff’s Institute, National Institute of Corrections

Organizations: Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association, National Sheriffs’ Association, Ohio Jail Advisory Board, Ohio Crime Prevention Association, Ohio Homeland Security Advisory Council, FBI National Academy Association, Ohio Supreme Court Funding Task Force

Family: Wife, Joy (We just celebrated our 40th anniversary.); three children; one grandchild

Hobbies: Reading (I’ve traveled the world and met many amazing people from the comfort of an open book.)

Contact: 740-335-6170;