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Record-setting deputy has volunteered with Meigs County for 66 years


Special Deputy Howard Mullen of the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office shows off his 1947 Ford.
See Special Deputy Howard Mullen talk about his historic car and the Meigs County Sheriff's Office in this video.

At 91, Howard Mullen owns an official Meigs County deputy’s uniform, a 1947 Ford kitted out like an old-time police car and the record as Ohio’s longest-certified law officer.

But since he started in 1953, he has always served the sheriff’s office on a part-time, volunteer basis.

“It’s somewhat of a hobby related to safety-type work,” said the Pomeroy resident, who also has a long history of volunteering with the local fire and emergency medical departments. 

“His life has really revolved around public service and helping people,” said Sheriff Keith Wood, who has known Mullen since the 1970s. “And our door will always be open for him.”

When most people were using weekends to relax or catch up on household chores, Mullen would head to the sheriff’s office.

“I would often come down, almost every Saturday, and ride five, six, seven hours or what have you, and … I spent most of my time being out with a deputy.”

These days, when he isn’t spending time in Florida, he visits three or four days a month to keep Meigs County deputies company or help direct traffic, protect crime scenes or do front office tasks. He drives his Ford in parades or to schools for safety demonstrations. 

Back in his spryer days, he had his share of wild moments with deputies.

“I almost got shot in a drug raid years ago,” Mullen said. 

On that dark and rainy night, he and deputies were advancing across a field, not knowing that a fence with a 6- or 12-volt line stretched across their path. Mullen made a slight noise when he walked into it and felt a surprising jolt.

His reaction startled the deputies, who immediately aimed their guns at him.

“I heard click, click, click, click,” he said. “Now that was back in the old days; they didn’t use semiautomatics. It was the sound of the officers going from double-action to single-action. 

“So I said: ‘Hold it, boys! This is me.’”

That raid ended up being canceled, Mullen said, because out-of-county officers took a wrong turn and drove onto the suspects’ property, accidentally alerting them.

Mullen’s title nowadays is special deputy, Sheriff Wood said, but he functioned more like an auxiliary in years past.

Throughout the state, sheriff’s offices commonly have at least a small pool of auxiliary deputies ready to help out, said Muskingum County Sheriff Matthew Lutz, president of the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association. 

With certification from the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy, the auxiliaries often have full arrest powers. They either hope to get hired or have decided that police work isn’t the right full-time fit for them but they still want to help.

“I don’t know that I could put a number, or a word, on their value,” said Lutz, who has more than a dozen auxiliary officers working with his department. “At a moment’s notice, if I need help, I just call and they come out. ...

“They wear the same uniform as us, and they carry the same equipment. If we are standing side by side with an auxiliary deputy, you will not know the difference.”

Mullen’s certification from OPOTA — the organization was established about a dozen years after he began helping the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office — was “grandfathered in,” a process that required all of the sheriffs he’d worked for to submit letters attesting to his skills. 

Today, he is up-to-date on all of his continuing education requirements. “He still goes out to the range to shoot to qualify with us,” Sheriff Wood said. 

Mullen’s main value to the office, the sheriff said, is inspiring the deputies and connecting them with the history of the department and the town. 

“He definitely has a history of stories to tell,” Wood said.

A case in point was the time Mullen was crouched behind a back door of a cruiser, aiming his gun at a car with two criminals from Athens County who had driven south. 

The sheriff at the time (not Wood) stepped out the front door of the cruiser, right in front of Mullen’s gun.

Mullen didn’t pull the trigger – and he declined to identify the sheriff involved. 

“It embarrasses him to have someone tell about it,” said Mullen, a native of Pomeroy, where his father was the postmaster. 

As long as Mullen has lived in the town, the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office has been in the same red-brick building, which sits a block from the Ohio River. Some of the early sheriffs he worked for lived on the second floor with their families, he said, and a landslide on the hill behind the station once caused a boulder to drop on an Ohio State Highway Patrol cruiser.

In this photo, likely taken in 1971 at the dedication of the Racine dam and locks, Howard Mullen stands fourth from the left.

Howard Mullen, fourth from left, attends the dedication of the Racine dam and locks, likely in 1971.

Mullen also remembers that Meigs County purchased police radios the year he got out of the Army. (He served stateside after World War II, until 1948.) Before that, sheriffs would ask local merchants to turn on special lights on their buildings when deputies needed to call in.

“We laugh about that nowadays because everything has become so technical,” Mullen said. “The equipment just has completely changed, and the officers really have to have a lot of understanding about many subjects.”

Mullen himself is knowledgeable about a subject or two, having worked as a bank examiner for the state of Ohio and then in the private banking industry before he retired from full-time work.

One of the reasons Mullen, who never married or had children, has stayed involved with the sheriff’s office is working with people he respects so much.

“I think most officers feel that they are doing something worthwhile,” he said. “They’re not just locking people up — they’re helping people. I think there’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”

That said, he was never tempted to make police work his full-time job.

“The police officers, especially in the poorer sections of the state, like we are here,” he explained, “until you work your way up high, the salaries don’t appear to be extra inviting.”

Mullen considers that a shame.

“I would emphasize that, for the most part, any law enforcement officer you come into contact with is a rather highly trained person. It’s not like the old days where you didn’t really have to have any special training. These days, you are working with people who know what they’re doing.”

For his part, the sheriff doesn’t just enjoy Mullen’s company; he considers him a valuable recruitment tool.

“I try to get young people interested in the job,” Wood said. “A lot of these kids who’ve come in here and seen Howard — I think he’s a person they’ll never forget. Maybe it’s: ‘I learned a little bit something extra from this person who is inspiring.’ 

“Or maybe that was it: I just learned he inspires me to want to do this, too.”

Howard Mullen stands in front of the Meigs County Sheriff's Office & Jail.