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Retired chief deputy saw big changes

September 25, 2000

Retired chief deputy saw big changes



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - The job of being a police officer changed considerably during the quarter century that John Vanorsdale worked for the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department.

"I think the biggest change has been the professionalism," said Vanorsdale, 57, who retired Aug. 31 from the department, where he served 25 years, the last 10 years as chief deputy.

"When I started, not everyone had to go the West Virginia Police Academy. And the equipment has changed dramatically."

The department had only three or four cars that everyone shared. Now each officer has a car. Video cameras in cars, stun guns, computers, pepper spray - all are new tools for law enforcement, Vanorsdale said.

"There are now things you can use without having to use deadly force," he said.

The types of people and calls officers work with also are much different, he said.

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When he first became a deputy, "we would get in fights" with suspects, he said. "Now they would just as soon shoot you."

He added: "Many people now carry weapons." Among wrong-doers, "I don''t think the respect for law enforcement or the public in general is as strong as it used to be. The attitudes of people carrying arms makes them more apt to discharge a weapon during the commission of a crime than they were 10 years ago."

Addiction to drugs has made the problems worse, he said.

"Domestic violence has really become one of the priority calls you have," he said. Vanorsdale saw his share of potential violence up close and personal in 25 years.

"I've been shot at and had a gun stuck in my face," he said. Once, a man pointed a .357 at him and pulled the trigger. Vanorsdale got his hand down between the hammer and the barrel so it couldn't go off. The incident made him think of giving up his career, but he stuck with it.

He was active in the deputies association and worked hard for the deputies, noted County Commissioner John Wright.

"You took care of your deputies," Wright told him during a ceremony in which he was presented with the gun he used on the job.

"I wish he had stayed with me," said Sheriff Ron Jones, the fourth sheriff for whom Vanorsdale worked.

Born and raised in Martinsburg, he was a barber before he became a police officer. He now is working as a special deputy U.S. marshal at the U.S. Courthouse and is running for magistrate.

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