Former police officer Beck soon to retire as district judge

BROOKVILLE — When he became a magisterial district judge in 1999, the soon-to-be-retired Richard Beck knew the job would be a challenge, perhaps all the more so because of his experience as a police officer.

Prior to election to district judge, Beck served as a Brookville Borough Police officer for more than 30 years. He was told from the start that the transition could be tough.

“The school told me that could be a problem,” he said. “I would have to say, no, it wasn’t, because they clued me in on that.”

Beck acknowledged that police officers may believe a suspect is guilty before arriving in court. He may have felt that way as a police officer, but when he became district judge, Beck left those predispositions at the door.

The result was possible disagreements with borough officers that he had known for decades. That didn’t deter him from ruling as he saw fit, though, because at the heart of Beck’s service as judge has been one principle: Fairness.

“I know that I made some of them (police officers) mad,” he said. “I had that happen, because I took each case as new and based the judgement on what I thought was right. I didn’t care who I upset.”

Beck’s campaign for district judge began as his career as a police officer was winding down. He said he felt police work “was a young man’s job,” and he felt better suited in another capacity.

Relying on the relationships he built as a long-time officer and borough resident, Beck began the footwork for his district judge campaign.

“I needed 100 signatures on the petition to get on the ballot,” he said. “I figured I wanted twice that many.”

While campaigning, Beck spoke with the prospective voters and asked them what they desired in a district judge.

“They wanted to know if I was going to be there for them all of the time,” he said. “Technically, this is a part-time job. To really do it, and to do it right, it has to be a full-time job. I’ve always treated it as such.”
Beck scheduled his courses for June 1999, one month after the primary election.

“When I scheduled the course, I figured if I lost in the primary, I just wouldn’t go to the classes,” he said.

There was a problem, though. Beck filed on both the Republican and Democrat tickets, and he won both parties’ primaries, meaning there would be no opposing candidate on the general election ballot.

Failure to pass the course was therefore not an option. As Beck explained, passing was difficult.

“There was a 100-question exam and four essays,” he said. “If you miss any of those, you have to take the whole thing over again.”

Fortunately, Beck did pass the course, and he won the general election that November. For that point forward, he has been maintaining his basic principle of fairness for both suspects and police.

One example of that fairness is seen with the way Beck schedules hearings. Prior to scheduling, Beck speaks with the local police departments and learns what days officers, who are needed in court, work day shifts.

“That way, they didn’t have to pay an officer overtime to appear in court,” he said. “Then that helps the taxpayers.”

He said being fair has led to positive feedback from community members.

“I’ve had a lot of people come up and tell me that they hate to see me go, because I was fair with everybody,” Beck said. “You have to treat the people right. I thought I did that in the police department.

“In this (job), you can irritate a lot of people if you don’t treat them right,” he said. “I always tried to rule fairly, and neither party would be mad, even in civil suits. If you treat people right, things go a lot better.”

Beck plans to stay on as a senior judge and hear cases as needed. In the meantime, his two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren will keep him busy.

When asked what he will miss about the job, Beck said, “The people. There are an awful lot of good people in this community. I’ve always been a people person, and that is what I’m going to miss.”