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Salem Township man trades state police badge for life in a band

Patrick Varine
| Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Cliff Jobe sits for a portrait in his Salem Twp. home on Nov. 2, 2016.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Cliff Jobe sits for a portrait in his Salem Twp. home on Nov. 2, 2016.

Cliff Jobe has gone undercover to investigate drug trafficking, been wounded in a shootout with a motorcycle gang and commanded a state police security force when international leaders visited Pittsburgh.

But these days, he's content to strum the guitar that he first picked up when he was 14 — and maybe post a video to YouTube.

Jobe, 66, of Salem Township spent nearly four decades with the Pennsylvania State Police, enlisting at age 22 and spending his early law-enforcement years at the former Pittsburgh barracks on Washington Boulevard.

In 1976, he went into undercover work.

“I wanted to get into the meat and potatoes of the criminal world,” he said. “I worked in a lot of the rural areas, and I grew up in Slickville, so I sort of fit into that country profile.”

Jobe got his left ear pierced, grew some scruff — which was not permitted on the chins of other state troopers — and “I grew an Afro that was out over my shoulders,” he said.

“We'd go to barrooms and spend time to the point where people accepted you as a normal patron,” he said. “But typically, you had targets and information fed to you about a particular operation.”

Jobe's assignments were often dangerous: In 1980, he and two other troopers were badly wounded during a shootout with members of the Outlaw motorcycle gang. In 1985, Jobe's partner and one of his best friends, Trooper Gary Fisher, was fatally shot during a struggle after a cocaine buy in East Huntingdon.

Jobe said he knew the dangers inherent to the job.

“You're always concerned,” he said. “But look at it this way: I know exactly who I'm dealing with. Mentally, physically, technically, I'm as prepared as I can be.”

That preparation helped in situations Jobe couldn't have anticipated.

“I remember one time I was walking down the boardwalk in Wildwood (N.J.) with my wife, and a guy I'd been doing drug investigations on came up to me and started a conversation,” he said. “It's rare, and it's a coincidence, but you have to have a plan. Police work is 24 hours a day.”

By 1988, Jobe had 12 years of undercover work under his belt. It was then that he got an opportunity to spend more time with his family.

“I had two young children and a wife,” he said. “Undercover work keeps you away from home during the night a lot of the time.”

He took a position at the state police's Southwest Training Center east of Greensburg, a satellite academy for state troopers.

“Because of the role I played, I was recognized by my department as an expert on use-of-force issues,” he said. “That's what I trained police officers in, and I had a lot of personal experience with it from being on the street.”

‘You don't forget Cliff'

State police Capt. Steve Eberle, who commands Troop A in Greensburg, was one of Jobe's cadets in 1995 at the training academy. He said Jobe is the epitome of what a state trooper should be.

“When you think of what troopers embody, Cliff comes to mind,” Eberle said. “He leaves a lasting impression when you meet him. You don't forget Cliff.”

That might have something to do with his imposing stature.

When Jobe recently walked into Dick's Diner in Murrysville, he stood more than 6 feet tall and wore a motorcycle vest and a no-nonsense look.

The best thing about Jobe is that “he got it,” Eberle said, referring to the state police's mission.

“He realized that we're out there to serve the public, and he never wanted you to forget that,” Eberle said. “He told us, ‘Don't let the job harden you, and don't forget the reason we're here.' ”

For the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh in 2009, Jobe headed a state police mobile field force that helped provided security.

“We took 1,200 guys down to Pittsburgh for that,” he said. “We built a mock city of Pittsburgh at the Latrobe airport and got our people up to snuff on what they'd need to work the G-20.

“I've worked on a lot of those types of things, and I had the blessing of not many things going wrong.”

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Jobe was one of the troopers assigned to Shanksville. He provided security when then-first lady Laura Bush visited with the families of those killed in the Flight 93 crash.

Beginning in 1996, Jobe reviewed civil and criminal cases involving state troopers, a role he still fills through his consulting business. The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office solicited his review and opinion on Pittsburgh police officers' conduct in the case involving Jordan Miles, a young black man who in 2010 was beaten during an arrest.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. did not prosecute the three officers involved in that case.

Jobe retired from the force in 2010.

Life after the force

These days, when he's not reviewing a police case, Jobe plays with On the Way Home, the gospel-bluegrass band he started with family members.

A self-taught guitarist, Jobe said a family get-together doesn't go by without some playing and singing.

“At some point, the instruments will come out,” he said. “Thanksgiving will come, we'll get through the meal and pretty soon cases are being opened and everyone's picking something.”

On the Way Home plays at benefits, holiday events and gospel sing-alongs at Jobe's church, Delmont Presbyterian. His wife is on bass, his sister plays the mandolin and his brother-in-law is on guitar.

Jobe has penned a number of songs, ranging from traditional gospel to patriotic and even two blues tunes dedicated to his hometown of Slickville. He posts most of them to YouTube.

Eberle said he won't forget the lessons he learned from Jobe.

“He's just an all-around great guy, and he symbolizes everything that the state police are,” Eberle said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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