Veteran sheriff bows out after 34 years


Rick Ruscak has spent the past 34 years serving and protecting the people of Alexandria. He is retiring from the Alexandria Sheriffs Office but plans to continue serving this community.

When Ruscak was a child, he knew that he wanted to be a police officer. Thats why I chose to attend Northeastern University, he said. They had a program in criminal justice that was a co-op program students spent part of their time in class and part of their time working. That experience just confirmed that I had made the right choice.

After graduation, Ruscak, a Massachusetts native, worked for both small and large departments in his home state. At one point, I was hired as the one and only police officer in a very small town. Some people were glad to have me because I was there to protect them but others werent so happy to see me because I was costing them money and raising their taxes, he said.

Looking for a change, Ruscak saw an advertisement that Alexandria, Virginia, was looking for police officers. I applied because I had this vision of working in a small town with lots of farm land. Sometimes those of us who were born in the north east have a bit of a snobbish view about the rest of the country being rural, he said.

He came to Alexandria in 1973 and spent the next four years as a police officer. Then, in 1978, Sheriff Mike Norris hired him to be the second in command at the Sheriffs Department.

Things were a lot different in those days, Ruscak said. The first thing I noticed was that neither the deputies nor the inmates had uniforms. I changed that petty quickly so that I could tell the difference.

He also noticed a lack of training among the deputies. The jail was located on Pitt Street and the exercise yard was surrounded by barbed wire. Outside the barbed wire fence, a deputy was standing with a shot gun to prevent inmates from escaping, Ruscak said.

When Ruscak asked about the deputys training, he was told that the deputy was probably a farmer who knew how to use a shot gun and that he was there to shoot escaping inmates. Ruscak, who knew that deputies were only authorized to shoot fleeing felons, asked how the deputy was going to know if an escaping inmate was a felon or a misdemeanant.

I was told that it really didnt matter because the deputy didnt have any bullets, Ruscak said.

Ruscak also entered a system where matrons were in charge of female inmates. The inmates were gossiping with the matrons who were supposed to be supervising them and constantly causing trouble between the matrons. After about the third time I had to intervene in an argument among the matrons, I decided to make a change, he said.

Ruscak put the matrons in charge of male inmates and found that the gossiping and thus the arguments were eliminated. It had an added benefit as well. The male inmates grooming habits improved because these females were now in charge of monitoring them.

He also worked hard to see that the department received national accreditation. We have set very high standards for our staff and that has resulted in this department remaining accredited, Ruscak said. 

Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, who was elected in 2005, had only praise for Ruscak. Rick Ruscak has served the citizens of Alexandria and the citys Sheriffs Office with the highest degree of integrity and leadership during his 30 years as Under Sheriff.  He has been a valuable asset to me in my assuming the role of Sheriff of the city.  He has selflessly given his time and talent to our Office and we are proud of his service.

Rick came to this office in its infancy.  He helped create the standard of professionalism.  He established the criteria for our accreditation and played a major role in the education and training of Sheriffs Deputies. During a critical time in the previous administration he can be credited for stabilizing the Sheriffs Office, his leadership guided the Office through many critical periods. We owe him a great deal of thanks for his contributions. Im proud to have known him during my career, Lawhorne said.  

Ruscak and his wife plan to remain in Alexandria. I want to continue to give to this community that we love, maybe in some kind of ministry. I am very involved at Oakland Baptist Church and will continue to support the work we do there. There is just no other place that I would rather be than Alexandria,Ruscak said.