Issues and Answers
The Post Journal has been including a number of articles which feature me and my opponent, current Sheriff Joe Gerace, answering several questions that concern our community. Below you will find my answers to those questions. Click the question to open my response for each question.
1. Perhaps the two biggest issues facing police departments are the opioid crisis and drunk driving. How should the county dedicate its resources toward each issue?
Yes, both issues are costing people their lives and effecting our communities in many different ways. I have seen various groups and organizations try to put a cost on each of these however I don’t believe we are able to get an accurate picture of the overall costs – there are financial as well as social and emotional cost that are difficult if not impossible to calculate.
It is critical that the Sheriff’s Office work smarter and collaboratively in battling these two issues. We cannot operate in silos but must combine our efforts with all levels of law enforcement, public health and treatment organizations, and educational resources. There needs to be information sharing (HIPAA should not be used as a tool to avoid cooperation as there are provisions in that law that allows for sharing information), if we are to be effective in battling the drug epidemic it is critical that we work together.
Drunk driving is an issue as is drugged driving and there have been great strides made in combatting these crimes. In the 80’s there were over 50,000 lives lost each year as a result of drunk/drugged driving. In 2016 there were just over 10,000 lives lost due to drunk/drugged driving so there have been improvements but just one life lost is too many.
The improvements (in the drunk driving statistics) came as a result of a multi-faceted approach to the problem with agencies – law enforcement, public health, educational, non-profits and advocacy groups, etc., working together. Law Enforcement began cracking down on the crime by training officers how to better recognize driving impairment, educational initiatives were launched for individuals of all ages as well as those responsible for selling alcohol, car design was improved, highways were also improved, advocacy groups (MADD) were involved as advocates in the judicial system. The results were many lives saved. We should not abandon these efforts on reducing drunk driving and we can use the same approach in fighting the drug epidemic – a multi-faceted approach working in collaboration with our stakeholders:
• Continue our sales enforcement – using all available resources to identify those involved in sales and make sure they are prosecuted to the fullest extent.
• Two way sharing of information between drug enforcement investigators and patrol
• Law Enforcement networking – drug dealers do not operate in silos and neither should Law Enforcement. Continual and effective communication needs to be developed between all Law Enforcement agencies.
• Through cooperation we need to identify not only drug dealers but also those agencies responsible in manufacture and irresponsible distribution of pills.
• Chronic offenders need to be dealt with – cooperation with our prosecutors to make sure that not only our major dealers are prosecuted but also those who are chronic offenders even in small quantities.
• Maximize our use of all resources – local, state, and federal. Return to one drug task force in Chautauqua County that works with our federal law enforcement agencies as well.
• Partnerships, collaboration and cooperation between law enforcement and public health agencies to assist those ready for help with their addictions.
The status quo on drug enforcement has not worked. In 2014 there were 28, 648 opiate overdose deaths and in 2016 that number had grown to 42,249. We need to be smarter if we expect to get a handle on this epidemic. This requires working together and a willingness to share information/resources to solve the problems – not worrying about who gets the credit for successes because it is community success we are looking for.
2. In your opinion, how are things running at the Chautauqua County Jail? What can be done in the next four years to improve the situation, and what are the biggest impediments to your favored solutions?
The jail seems to be an underappreciated entity yet a very necessary one at that. Historically it appears that the jail is responsible for the bulk of the Sheriff’s Office budget and is likely the place we can realize savings. We cannot continue to blame funding issues on state mandates and not try to effect cost saving measures. I suggest that we start small by making responsible changes that can help reduce the budget.
By working with all of our stakeholders we can develop plans to operate the jail in a more effective and efficient manner. The employees of the jail are there day in and day out and they are great resources to tap into to find out what is effective and what is not. We cannot continue to ignore their suggestions and ideas but rather properly examine them and see how their ideas can help. Working with the New York State Commission of Correction we need to develop a more effective and efficient staffing in the jail. Reducing the amount of overtime incurred at the jail will help reduce the budget. Of utmost importance is reducing the amount of forced overtime that has potential to not only create budgetary concerns but also safety concerns as Corrections Officers are forced to work additional hours in a fatigued state.
In jails across the Country, Chautauqua County included, there is an issue with individuals suffering with mental health issues. We need to make sure these issues are addressed and we strive to reduce the number of people in our jail with mental illness – when we succeed we reduce cost and improve safety. Once again, this will require collaboration and commitment among several stakeholders. We cannot wait until tragedy occurs in the jail to react but must develop some forward thinking and planning. To be effective in reducing the number of inmates with mental illness in the jails we need:
• Committed leadership – Criminal Justice and Behavioral health
• Need to conduct timely screenings and assessments
• Need to properly evaluate data – determine the number of inmates with mental illness, their average length of stay, numbers connected with treatment, and recidivism rates
• Conduct a comprehensive process analysis and inventory of services that goes beyond the Sequential Intercept Mapping process but also examining what has worked and has not.
• Prioritizing of policy, practice, and funding improvements
• Track progress – do our programs reduce the number of people with mental illness who are booked into the jail, has it reduced their length of stay at the jail, what are their connections to treatment, and is the rate of recidivism reduced.
The rate of re-offending of the inmates is extremely high which creates a burden not just on the jail but on our communities as a whole. Chautauqua County would be better served if we were able to find ways to reduce the rate of reoffending. There are programs for the offenders in the jail however we need to make sure any programs offered are those that will assist in reducing the reoffending. Evidence based programs that will help offenders change their way of criminal thinking and to find employment. Programs such as Offender Workforce Development Specialist training along with programs like “Ready Set Work” and “Thinking for a Change” should be considered. Follow up with those released and connection with groups that can assist those released finding employment will not only reduce costs in the jail but reduce potential costs in public assistance. While programs can be effective we must ensure that the safety of our employees at the jail as well as those incarcerated is first and foremost.
3. How large a role should the Sheriff's Department in law enforcement countywide? Should the county continue with its current model of service or become more of an all-county encompassing agency?
The Sheriff’s Office plays a critical role in law enforcement countywide and we need to continue to do so. We are an all-county encompassing agency and need to provide appropriate services to each area in the county as there is need. The Sheriff’s Office along with the New York State Police have countywide jurisdiction and we need to better collaborate and cooperate with each other to provide the most effective and efficient level of service to keep our residents and visitors safe. In communities that have chosen to maintain their own police agency there is also a need to work alongside them to provide for needed services – this is accomplished through communication and cooperation.
To be most effective and efficient there needs to be a continual sharing of information and resources along with discussions on how best serve the people of Chautauqua County and our visitors. For many years this has been accomplished through regular meetings of law enforcement agencies in which all levels have been invited to participate – the Sheriff’s Office needs to be at those discussions and be an integral part of each meeting. I would also suggest similar meetings that involve representatives of other first responder agencies. As part of these meeting we would determine successes, failures and needs as well as areas of training that could be discussed among all the agencies.
The Sheriff’s Office needs to be prepared to be primarily responsible for a jurisdiction that may choose to dissolve their police agency. I do not believe that the Sheriff’s Office should be the driving force in dissolving any police agency – this should be the decision of the municipality after the proper input and approval of the residents of that community. The communities that have their own police agency have determined they are willing to pay to have that level of enhanced police presence and the Sheriff’s Office should be providing similar services to those municipalities as is needed. A study that was conducted in Chautauqua County with non-taxpayer dollars showed that these municipalities with their own police force wanted to maintain those agencies. Many citizens want to know that the officers that are responding to their needs are truly interested and committed to assisting them and there seems to be that assurance. I will continue to support these individual agencies as Sheriff and encourage all deputies to work hard to provide the level of service the public expects.
4. How will the coming of the state's Raise the Age law and E911 enhancements influence the Sheriff's Department over the next four years? What is the biggest challenge you see with each change?
New York State will be changing the law. Raise the Age, effective October 1, 2018 that will affect how law enforcement handle cases with 16 year old offenders. Effective October 1, 2019 17 year olds will also be effected. While this law seems to be more of an issue on the judicial system it will change how we handle the 16 year old offender and later the 17 year old offender. The law change will necessitate planning for transportation of the Adolescent Offender (AO) to detention facilities approved by New York State and back to court when needed. New York State is supposed to cover the cost of transportation.
Training will be required to ensure that each deputy understands the process and knows the limitations we have when handling a case that involves the Adolescent Offender (AO). Since some cases will still go to the local court – traffic violations are an example there may be confusion. There are still many details that are being worked out and it is critical that the Sheriff’s Office stay informed and part of the conversations. We must ensure that the AO does not come in any contact (sight or sound) with any adult offender. The biggest change for the Sheriff’s Office is that we must be aware that the AO be processed as we formerly processed other juvenile offenders.
In the past Chautauqua County has had approximately 200 offenders (Misdemeanor or Felony charges) in the 16-17 year old bracket each year. It must be recognized that not all of these offenders will be incarcerated but primarily those who have been charged with a violent felony. Since the AO cannot enter our County Jail we will need to have agreements with other counties that have approved facilities for the AO’s. Working together with our judicial system, probation, and other service providers we will need to forecast the expected costs to house the AO out of county. An analysis of the current housing and classification at CCJ will be needed to see if the reduced AO population can cut costs in the jail.
E911 has been effectively used around the country and has been responsible for saving lives. As a responder that has responded to many calls that originated from a 911 call I understand the importance of having accurate information. The FCC requires wireless carriers to provide 911 and E911 capabilities where the Public Safety Answering Point requests and we have had occasion to utilize these services. It is important that all our county stakeholders are involved in the enhancements that may take place.
It is critical that we work closely with our technical staff to develop the most effective E911 system. It is equally important to rely on those in the field to report back any short comings and identify future necessitated improvements.