Jim Rigby, in his role as the Ferndale Police Department’s chief, has seen young men, who he knew since they were children playing in the neighborhood, die from drug overdoses.
The gut-wrenching experiences have helped shape the Republican candidate’s positions, concerning the local opioid epidemic, as he runs for the 71st Legislative District seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives against incumbent state Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Westmont.
“I can tell you of all my years of policing, and going through the academy, and all of the annual updates we have to take and all of the things we do, they don’t teach you how to tell a parent their child’s dead,” Rigby said during an interview at The Tribune-Democrat on Tuesday. “I still have trouble today. That’s hard, especially when they’re friends and family friends.”
Rigby succinctly said, “Something’s got to change.”
From a law enforcement perspective, Rigby has called for the same approach since he first ran for the 71st seat in 2008: “If you go back to my interview 10 years ago, I think I said we need more police. We need more feet on the streets. I’ve been chirping that for 10 years.”
While that position has remained the same, Rigby’s stance on the use of Narcan – an antidote that reverses the effect of an opioid overdose – has changed. He originally opposed requiring first responders to carry the drug. But he now supports its use after seeing the impact of overdose deaths in Ferndale and other communities in Cambria County.
“Narcan is a great tool,” Rigby said. “There are people that don’t like it. I’ll tell you what, until it’s a family member, then I think maybe you’ll change your mind.”
He continued: “Then the question comes up, how many times do we Narcan somebody? As many times as it takes. I’m not God. It’s not my decision to decide who lives and who dies. If I have the tools, then I should utilize them.”
In terms of the local economy, he said Johnstown’s participation in Pennsylvania’s Act 47 program for distressed municipalities should end.
“At some point, we’ve got to stand on our own feet, and it’s going to be tough,” Rigby said. “And it doesn’t matter when they come off it – whether the town’s thriving or we’re at the bottom of the barrel, and I think we’ve gotten pretty low now – we’ve got to get off it.
“I think once you make that initial step, you’ll find out where you have to make the absolute necessary cuts that have to be made. And you stick very tight to your budgets. Fire and police are not two of the areas that I think you want to cut, at least not in my opinion. But we need to look at what do we do.”
Rigby, who has served with the Ferndale Volunteer Fire Association and Ferndale Borough Council, is running against Barbin for the fourth time, having lost in 2008, 2010 and 2014.
He points to what he considers to be unacceptable home values, unemployment rates, low income statistics and a population decline over the past decade among his reasons for running once again.
He said challenging Barbin is “nothing personal.”
“It’s 10 years later, and it’s still not personal,” Rigby said. “We both had ideas. We both had visions of where we needed to go, where we thought we could take us and how we thought things would turn out. I look 10 years later, and I just don’t see it. If we were better off than we were 10 years ago today, I don’t think I’d be sitting up in your interview room. Numbers don’t lie.”
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.