Sheriff Dave Wedding’s 42-year career at the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office will conclude at the end of this year, closing the book on a historic chapter as the longest-tenured member in the agency’s history.
Starting as a jail officer in 1981, Wedding’s no-nonsense attitude helped catapult him to head of the county’s law enforcement department, winning his first election for sheriff in 2014 and reelection in 2018.
Though his childhood ambition was to become a firefighter, he quickly rose in the department and was hired or promoted under each of the five previous sheriffs, serving as a deputy, sergeant, lieutenant, major, and chief.
“I began my career as a civilian jailer in 1981 without any intention of moving upward,” he says. “Sheriff Clarence Shepard offered me a deputy sheriff position in 1983 and I accepted. Sheriff Ray Hamner promoted training and education and encouraged me to seek it and aspire to gain a leadership role within the office. I also served as the Chief Deputy for Sheriff Eric Williams.”
The 2019 Indiana Sheriff of the Year isn’t without controversy — notably his 2020 switch from the Democratic to Republican Party — but he doesn’t shy away from criticism.
“I’ve learned I don’t care if somebody spins a negative story on me, because I stand behind everything I do,” he says.
In his eight years as sheriff, Wedding has been vocal at the local and state level about the need to expand the jail to house an increasing number of inmates and addressing serious mental health issues for inmates. The county pays more than a million dollars a year to house prisoners outside of Vanderburgh County.
“I like ‘change’ and truly believe that we must be innovative,” he says. “I tend to examine everything that we do and seek to make it more efficient. You must be creative and willing to change with the world as it evolves.”
Evansville Business: What has been the biggest change in law enforcement from when you started your career to now?
Dave Wedding: As a young jail officer, we took care of 170-200 inmates. Currently we maintain numbers of 750 inmates. Our society has seen tremendous improvements in engineering, education, and health and science. Life is certainly much better, so what drives up the crime? Over the years, I have seen disrespect and discontent for authority and people not willing to accept responsibility for their actions. The criminal justice system is overwhelmed by the volume of crime here in Vanderburgh County.
EB: What was it like being involved in a such a high-profile case as when two Alabama fugitives were captured in Evansville?
DW: It was an event that unfolded rapidly, and the tenacious work by our local U.S. Marshal taskforce brought a quick end to it. Good police work and an observant EPD officer, plus stupid criminals, helped us resolve a nationwide manhunt.
EB: You’re known for your outspokenness. How have you handled that throughout your career?
DW: One thing that I detest is what I call “Teflon” people, the people who sugarcoat statements just so they can avoid the direct problem. When I see a problem, I say exactly what I feel about that problem and about ways to resolve that problem, and sometimes it’s not what people want to hear.
EB: What’s next for you after leaving law enforcement?
DW: I am keeping a watchful eye on a possible state legislature seat. If the opportunity and timing was right, running for an office could be a possibility. Supporting law enforcement and public safety would be a priority for me.