Law In The Family

Bentley Family Recalls Evolution Of Police Work In Community

The Bentley family is known for its commitment to law enforcement in Chautauqua County. Brothers David Bentley (left), leader of the Southern Tier Drug Task Force and lieutenant at the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, and John Bentley, Lakewood-Busti police chief, found a passion for police work early in life. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

LAKEWOOD — John and David Bentley grew up wanting to become police officers, an urge that was passed on through their father and one passed on to their children as well.

Currently the Lakewood-Busti police chief, John Bentley began his career in law enforcement July 4, 1975, as a part-time police officer in the village of Mayville. He then became a part-time Lakewood police officer Nov. 11, 1975, and stepped up to full-time June 1 of the following year.

David Bentley works as the head of the Southern Tier Drug Task Force and lieutenant for the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office. He began his career in 1980 working for the village of Fredonia as a police officer and then in the town of Ellicott. He’s been a member of the Sheriff’s Office since 1985 and joined the task force in 2008 as an investigator for narcotics.

The brothers are six and a half years apart in age, with John Bentley being the eldest and near retirement. Once they finish their careers, they’ll leave many Bentleys still in the force. John Bentley’s sons, Sgt. Matthew Bentley and Patrolman Steven Bentley, are members of the Jamestown Police Department. Meghan Bentley, Matthew Bentley’s wife, is also a patrolwoman in the city.

David Bentley’s son Erik Bentley is an assistant district attorney for Chautauqua County. John and David Bentley’s brother, James Bentley, was a police officer for the Colorado Springs Police Department and then homicide detective. He then became a district attorney in El Paso County.

From left, John, James, David and former Chautauqua County Sheriff John Bentley Sr. represent local law enforcement. John Bentley would become the Lakewood-Busti police chief; David Bentley would become the leader of the Southern Tier Drug Task Force and lieutenant at the Sheriff's Office; and James Bentley would become a homicide detective and police officer for the Colorado Springs Police Department.

John, David and James Bentley’s father worked in Jamestown and Ellicott as a police officer as well. His name was also John Bentley, and he became a deputy for the Chautuaqua County Sheriff’s Office before getting elected as sheriff in 1972. Their uncle, Daniel Bentley, was also a captain at the Jamestown Police Department after serving in World War II.

And their grandfather William Bentley worked as a Jamestown police officer in the early 1900s.

“As a group, we got over 100 years continuous,” John Bentley said in regard to how much service his family has provided over the past century.

All in all, several Bentley family members across four generations have contributed to law enforcement efforts in the county.

David and John Bentley talked about the ins and outs of police work and what goes into the job. They talked about shift changes and how dynamic schedules affected their lives in different ways. David Bentley said he would look forward to night shifts, so he could spend the optimum amount of time with his kids in the evenings.

From left, Jamestown Sgt. Matthew, Lakewood-Busti Police Chief John and Jamestown Patrolman Steven Bentley represent present-day local law enforcement that has run in the Bentley family over four generations.

“You just handle people differently,” David Bentley said about having to work nights in which different people are out in public.

The Bentley brothers have now experienced permanent shifts, in which less tenured officers typically get stuck with third shift. They said rotating shifts are ideal for the sake of fairness, and no quick changes, like working third shift to first shift immediately with no time off, would be desired.

“My junior guys do a great job on nights,” John Bentley said. “All my guys do their job.”

As the Lakewood-Busti chief, he said he still enjoys being a police officer, but he said he’s starting to feel his age.

“There’s no doubt I like being a policeman,” John Bentley said.

David Bentley has been on the local SWAT team since 1987 and counts himself lucky he doesn’t have to do as much physical activity anymore. In their primes, the two brothers attended the FBI National Academy, an institution only 1 percent of police officers get to attend. John Bentley attended in 1995, and David Bentley went later in 2009, which felt like going back to college for him.

Both brothers are also firearms instructors. They’ve become intimately familiar with more than just firearms though. Technology for law enforcement has changed prodigiously over the years they’ve been on the job. From radios to Tasers, the Bentleys are glad they’ve been around through all positive technological advancements.

David Bentley said they didn’t even start with fully functioning radios. In 1983, he got his first chance to use one; even then, they were primitive, requiring him and his colleagues to verbally give the coordinates of where they were. Modern computers have since helped track where police officers have been and currently are.

The Bentleys are glad dash cameras and body cameras were eventually implemented as measures to keep officers safe as well as the public. John Bentley said dash cameras have helped decrease officer complaints by about 75 percent. When it comes to safety, the brothers didn’t even have bulletproof vests early in their careers. David Bentley bought a vest with his own money, which was a smart purchase considering he would later get shot in Fredonia not long after he got one.

“There’s been a lot of changes since we started,” John Bentley added. “Tasers have saved lots of people’s lives.”

David Bentley said he was present for the first time a Taser was used in the county. Someone’s ex-boyfriend grabbed a butchers knife in a Celoron residence. The incident would have ended in shots fired if not for the introduction of the Taser, he said. He along with Jamestown Police Department officers detained the suspect, and David Bentley was the one to grab him and ease him down to the floor after the subject seized up. David Bentley said he wouldn’t forget seeing the electricity course from the Taser to the subject’s body.

Not every change has been as ground-breaking as Tasers, radios, computers or body cameras. John Bentley said no more vinyl seats has been a great improvement because officers would stick to the seats in the summer heat. David Bentley added it’s been helpful to have car lights and sirens independent of each other.

“All of the technology stuff has pretty much improved things,” David Bentley said.

The brothers talked more about their longest nights on the job. David Bentley said tracking the assailant who shot Jamestown police officer David Mitchell in the head in September 1999 was his personal longest night. Mitchell’s partner had managed to wound the shooter, and agencies including the Southern Tier Drug Task Force were eventually able to track the shooter down. Mitchell’s shooter had been an informant for the police department when he met with Mitchell and his partner.

“That was a very long night,” David Bentley said.

The two brothers shared how the manhunt for Ralph James “Bucky” Phillips, who killed one officer and shot two others, affected them. They spoke of how the final car chase between Chautauqua and Warren counties was a collaborative effort to catch Phillips. The Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, Pennsylvania State Police, Warren Police Department, Jamestown Police Department, Olean Police Department and Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Department all helped to establish a perimeter that would eventually box the culprit in.

The two brothers shared in a brawl that broke out at Trader Jack’s years back. A record 12 people were brought into custody that night after one altercation spread throughout the entire bar during the winter.

John Bentley mentioned the longest case he’s ever worked on, which is the disappearance of Lori Bova in 1997. The case has been ongoing ever since. He said he and her friends and family need closure for a case that feels like it’ll never end. The police chief said that most police work is quick in comparison, but every few years, he said a case comes across his desk that never seems to want to end. The investigations don’t always end in a satisfying way like in television, John Bentley said.

“It’s just frustrating,” John Bentley said. “The case has just played out for years and years with no resolution.”

The Bentleys suggested that all police officers and legal professionals keep a log of what happens in their day-to-day life. A journal will help chronicle notable events and provide perspective on all law enforcement officials have been through by the time they reach retirement.

“It’s what we knew growing up,” said John Bentley, who fostered his interest along with his brother in ride-alongs with their father. “Right then, I knew what I was going to do.”

Ride-alongs were eventually how they got their own children interested in law enforcement. Treating law enforcement as a way of life beyond just a career has kept the tradition alive for several generations in the Bentley family.

“It’s been a heck of a ride,” David Bentley said.

The pair said helping people out of bad situations is the most rewarding part of the job. David Bentley remembered a man he arrested for selling cocaine, and he later thanked David Bentley for arresting him, saying he’d have ended up dead if someone hadn’t intervened in his life when he did.

“Most people are good people,” John Bentley said.

He said he understands why some police officers might lose sight of that, which is why he’s tried to keep that philosophy at the forefront of his mind for decades. He and his brother hope new recruits join the force for the right reason: because they genuinely want to make a positive impact.