“I always strive to do the best that I can possibly do.”
So says Jon Harbert, a 28 year law enforcement veteran who has served as police chief for the City of Shinnston for the past five years. During that time, Chief Harbert has labored to elevate the department both collectively and also in encouraging each officer to gain the most knowledge and experience possible.
“I’ve been a first responder since I was 18,” Harbert said, but initially that service came with the Shinnston Volunteer Fire Department. He explained that “My Dad was in the fire department years ago. I followed in his footsteps.”
“Law enforcement was always my passion,” he continued.
Part of that passion came from a family friend that he knew while growing up.
Harbert started his career in law enforcement with the Bridgeport Police Department “and was there for the longest part” of his law enforcement service. He also served as Lumberport Chief of Police. His work prior to joining the Shinnston department included special assignment as a deputized officer with a federal Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives task force and a stint serving with a US Marshal Service fugitive task force.
Between different stints with local law enforcement agencies, he also worked for five years in the coal mines.
At the time of his hire, Shinnston Mayor Pat Kovalck told The Exponent-Telegram “He comes from a good family, and he’s got the determination that we were looking for. We want to gear our Police Department toward community service, have a chief who will get out in the public and talk to the neighbors, talk to the business leaders, get a feel for their needs.”
Harbert took over as the opioid crisis devastating West Virginia and much of the nation had started to hit its peak. His hire also took place four years after Harrison County received a federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area designation, or HIDTA. Counties that participate in HIDTA suffer elevated drug addiction and trafficking issues and receive extra federal assistance.
Harbert quickly moved to build up his department to face the growing challenges facing the Shinnston Police Department. He worked with the former police clerk, who now has another position with city administration, to rework “the policy and procedure manual inside and out” for the first time in approximately a quarter century.
He added to the toolkit of effective drug enforcement by obtaining three K-9s for the department. Harbert personally handles one of them and has five years of service handling them for the city. Furthermore, last year he worked with State Senator Ryan Weld (R-Brooke) in helping to put together a bill that, if enacted, would make crimes against police dogs the same as human officers. Harbert told WOWK in Charleston that getting support for the measure is “an uphill battle. Everybody sees dogs as another tool. While they are somewhat a tool, they’re also a breathing living creature that did not choose this path; we chose it for them.”
Harbert noted that his trained K-9 helped to make one of the biggest drug busts in Shinnston’s history. Though Shinnston is a small town, he said “things do happen. People don’t think they do, but they do.”
Over three years ago, Shinnston police helped to crack a drug trafficking operation. A local couple served as part of an operation using the US Mail to help ship methamphetamine across the country. Officers recovered two pounds of the drug, $17,000 in cash, and two guns. The couple received a total of 26 years in federal prison between the two of them.
Harbert said of Larry Gregory, who is now serving a 20 year sentence, that “he told us he spent the largest part of his life in prison.”
The K-9 units also help bring incidents to happier conclusions. Almost two years ago, K-9 Jess and her handler Sergeant Layton helped to locate a runaway teenager.
Organizations achieve excellence when individuals dedicate themselves to achieving it. As police departments face more aggressive criminals, they must put men and women in the field who meet the toughest standards. Harbert says of his hiring process that “I don’t want to just have a body.” He seeks those who have a passion for learning and a determination to serve the community.
Harbert oversees a great deal of the training personally. He is a certified instructor with the state in SWAT tactics and different types of firearms. “I’ve been a tactical guy for years,” he shared, adding that “I try to train my guys the best we can.” Harbert’s goal lies in Shinnston’s officers meeting standards higher than those set by the state.
The chief explained that the ideal officer is “someone that has a true drive” and a “true passion,” as well as “pride in what you do.”
Public perception also remains a challenge. For instance, officers work under more scrutiny than ever. Harbert said “anybody can make a mistake. It’s how you pick yourself up and move forward” that counts.
He also criticizes the police show mentality than many in the general public have, saying many “think we can solve crimes like on TV.”
By expecting the best and training his officers accordingly, Shinnston’s “thin blue line” does its best to roll back the big city problems that sometimes wash up in a small town.