08 July 2014
If he wins the Nov. 4 election and becomes Fluvanna County Sheriff, Interim Sheriff Eric Hess wants to focus on three things – internet crimes and fraud, community policing, and obtaining a school resource officer for the middle and elementary schools to share.
“Once a week I get some kind of Internet scam,” said Hess, 57. “We need to get information on Internet crimes and fraud out to everyone, especially the elderly population these scams prey on. We only have three investigators, but I would like to work toward having an investigator with an information technology background so we can work on Internet crimes in-house. If we send a computer away it can take months to come back – if we had someone trained they could do it here.”
Hess’s second initiative is something that the department is already working on – a rural patrolling approach known as community policing. “It’s a more personal approach,” Hess said, “with more officer interaction. Part of their day needs to be spent in the community, meeting people. So, while you’re out patrolling, say, watch a bit of the ball game and let those people know who you are.”
Rather than have folks encounter a police officer only when something is wrong, Hess wants them to have already met the officers under pleasant circumstances. “People in the community tell me they used to know who all the officers were,” Hess said. “We want people to know we’re not just a badge and uniform – there’s a human being behind it.”
One of the biggest things Hess said he will push this year is his third initiative – the addition of a school resource officer to share between the middle and elementary schools. “Children are very impressionable at an early age,” Hess said, “and they need that figure in there to mentor them on what is right and wrong. They’re not always getting that at home because parents are working, and teachers are busy giving them an education. So it’s important to have the school resource officer in there, to spend a little time with the kids, try to befriend them, and be a role model for them.”
This fall Hess plans to “inundate parents with information about how to monitor their children on the Internet and on their phones, especially with things like sexting. We’ve got to show these parents how important it is to check up on their kids. A photo is something that never goes away.”
A school resource officer could help here, Hess said, by providing programs to educate parents and kids. “Going around and teaching those classes and helping with those issues we’ve all seen come up over the last several years,” said Hess, “would be a tremendous help.”
Hess was appointed interim sheriff on May 2 when former Sheriff Ryant Washington stepped down to take a position as special policy advisor for law enforcement for the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
But his career in law enforcement began long before that. Starting in 2006 Hess worked as Washington’s chief deputy. As such he took on duties including supervising all divisions within the agency, developing and implementing department policies and procedures, directing personnel decisions, and monitoring and investigating major criminal cases.
Before that, Hess served in the Albemarle County Sheriff’s Office, working his way up from reserve deputy and training coordinator to deputy to, eventually, sergeant. He has 21 years of law enforcement experience.
Hess first became a Fluco when he purchased his farm in Scottsville in 1997. After a long stint of raising cattle, he reluctantly sold them only last year so he would have more time to focus on his job. But he still has time for his Harley, which he calls his “stress reliever.” As often as he can, he takes a ride down to Buckingham or up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Hess’s 90-year-old father lives with him on his farm, and his mother is a resident of Envoy at the Village in Fork Union. He also has three adult children: Courtney, Katie, and Matthew.
So how does Hess envision his role as sheriff? “The sheriff’s office has been moving forward since Sheriff [Washington] took over 14 years ago, and I can continue that trajectory. At the same time, you can’t become complacent. You have to communicate with the public, figure out what the needs are in the community. Without Fluvanna’s support and trust the sheriff’s office would not be as valuable an asset as it is. We have learned that and we need to maintain that at all times.”