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Press joins deputy in ride-along

By ERIC TICHY

Special to the OBSERVER

MAYVILLE – Deputy Jeff Hover gets out of his surprisingly clean patrol car and opens the back door.

He reaches for a hat and looks at his reflection in the window to make sure it’s on straight.

In front of him is a beat-up SUV with a bumper about to fall off. Just moments earlier, an in-car computer alerted the longtime Chautauqua County sheriff’s deputy of a vehicle with suspended insurance.

“Looks like we finally got one,” Hover says before he gets out and grabs his hat. “I was wondering if we were going to catch one today.”

The driver of the SUV admits his registration has lapsed, something Hover says he would have found out anyway. After a few moments, a traffic ticket is printed and Hover takes off.

It’s the sixth vehicle he’s pulled over in two hours on this sunny day, but the first driver not cited for speeding.

Hover last week invited this reporter for a three-hour ride-along. Just five minutes into the trip from Mayville, the first traffic violator is spotted: a man caught speeding 15 mph over the limit.

“Well, we should probably pull this guy over and see what his deal is,” Hover says, making the first of many u-turns in the trip.

A quick check of his license shows the driver has been cited for speeding in the past, as well as being warned for the same. It’s clear a traffic ticket is coming.

Ten minutes later, another vehicle is found speeding. With it comes another traffic ticket.

Hover admits he writes his fair share of citations within the Sheriff’s Office.

“Some will issue a lot, and others not so many,” he says, zipping through rural Chautauqua County. “The only way people will learn is if you write them a ticket.”

On average, the Jamestown resident writes 10 traffic citations a day. One unspecified holiday he wrote 40.

“You never know what you are going to get on any day,” he says. “It’s feast or famine. Though, I can’t believe how quiet it’s been today. I thought for sure we would have been dispatched to something.”

Hover has been a deputy since 1990. He knew being an officer was a possibility, and was almost convinced after a police ride-along of his own, which included chasing a vehicle that ended up hitting his side of the patrol car.

“The officer I was riding with said to me, ‘This almost never happens.'”

Aside from being a fixture in speedy motorists’ rear view mirror these days, Hover officially serves in the traffic safety division and as aviation supervisor. Ironically, Hover is not fond of heights. “I can’t stand them,” he quips. “I don’t even like ladders.”

Hover has made a name for himself as a sheriff’s deputy. A few years ago he rode with notorious Ralph “Bucky” Phillips as he was extradited back to Chautauqua County. Phillips escaped from the Wende Correctional Facility in Alden before shooting three officers, one of whom later died.

Phillips was caught in September 2006 by Pennsylvania State Police.

“That was an interesting car ride,” Hover says.

Last summer, Hover and a K-9 unit found Clymer schools Superintendent Keith Reed Jr., who had been shot to death days earlier.

“Police had looked for him and couldn’t find anything,” he says. “But that was at night. We came back during the day and there he was.

“It was a tough thing because I knew him from working with him and the school with some of their students. It’s always a tough situation.”

On this brisk day, streets are busy with traffic. On Route 62 in the town of Kiantone, Hover notes he could issue traffic tickets all day long. Today he only issues two in a quick sweep of the sprawling stretch of road between New York and Pennsylvania.

Sheriff’s deputies have a lot on their plates in any given shift. Aside from routine patrols, deputies also are required to perform background checks for residents seeking a pistol permit. Each check takes up to an hour, Hover estimates.

Then there are property checks, a perk of which many area residents aren’t aware.

“Say you go out of town and want to make sure someone is watching your house,” Hover says. “We will actually drive by and make sure everything looks good.”

A lack of deputies, though, means more work. The Sheriff’s Office covers just about all of the county, minus a few remaining areas served by local police agencies. In 2012, 17 positions (16 deputies and a clerk) were let go due to budget constraints.

Meanwhile, deputies are responding to more calls now than ever, something Sheriff Joe Gerace has emphasized in recent trips to the County Legislature. Two years ago, the Sheriff’s Office responded to 47,000 incidents; more were estimated last year.

“We’re getting annihilated here,” Gerace said in October. “We’re getting in all these emergency calls and there is no one here to take them. Our response time has increased.”

Hover also sees the increase in responses. “We’re all over the place,” he says. “We’re doing the best we can.”

After a trip back to the Sheriff’s Office on this day to drop off his passenger, Hover heads back out. He admits he has a few background checks to complete, as well as some property checks and a few more traffic tickets to issue.

“I love doing this,” he says. “It’s a great job.”