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3 candidates share ideas for leading Sheriff’s Office

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 October 2015 at 12:00 am

Candidates asked about adding school resource officers, body cams, and boosting diversity among officers

Photos by Tom Rivers – Steven Aldstadt, president of SCOPE in New York, serves as moderator of a candidate forum on Wednesday evening for the three people running for sheriff, including from left in back: Tom Drennan, Don Organisciak, and Randy Bower.

ALBION – In a candidate forum organized by the New York Revolution and the Orleans County chapter of SCOPE, two groups staunchly opposed to the SAFE Act, the first question for three candidates for sheriff didn’t waste any time on the controversial gun control law.

Candidates Randy Bower, Don Organisciak and Tom Drennan were all asked if they would enforce the SAFE Act.

Bower and Drennan said they wouldn’t. Organisciak said he would.

Most of the law, passed by the State Legislature in January 2013 after a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, was just upheld by a federal court.

Drennan, the chief deputy for the Sheriff’s Office, said the law “needs to be repealed.” He told 200 people at the candidate forum that he wouldn’t push officers to enforce that law if he is sheriff.

“We won’t be knocking on anybody’s door, checking their guns and ammunition,” he said.

Bower, a public safety dispatcher who won the Republican primary over Drennan last month, noted that every Orleans County town and village board, as well as the county Legislature, opposed the SAFE Act and have called on its repeal.

“As sheriff I work for the people,” Bower said at the forum at the Elk’s Club. “If you don’t want it enforced, I won’t enforce it. The sheriff works for you, the people.”

Don Organisciak speaks during a sheriff candidate forum.

Organisciak, a retired Medina police officer and investigator, said he would be obligated to enforce the SAFE Act as sheriff. He is endorsed by the Democratic Party.

“It’s a big issue,” he said about the SAFE Act. “The SAFE Act is a law and I have to enforce the law as sheriff.”

The candidates were asked numerous questions in the forum that lasted about 80 minutes. They were also allowed to make opening and closing statements.

Bower said he would push for a drug treatment program in the county jail, and more community policing, especially in the rural areas. He wants the Sheriff’s Office to have a stronger relationship with local school districts. Ideally, he said two officers would be assigned to work in each school district.

“We spend a lot of money protecting everything else but our children,” Bower said. “We need to be in our schools.”

Randy Bower answers a question during the candidate forum.

After a 30-year career in Medina, Organisciak worked two years as a school resource officer in Lyndonville. The school district had several bomb threats before Organisciak was brought in and he said those issues went away by the end of his two years.

He also developed a rapport with students, and that helped solve other crimes. He would favor a school resource officer in each district. Only Medina has an officer now in the schools with the school district paying towards an officer’s salary from the Medina Police Department.

Organisciak said the county should pay for a school resource officer for Kendall because that district doesn’t have a village police force. The other communities might work out paying for an officer through the school district or the village police department, he said.

Drennan said he meets regularly with the school superintendents and there is talk about the schools making an office available for officers, who could also stay for lunch and get to know students.

Organisciak said he is running for sheriff to give residents a choice in the election, and to also put his 30-plus years of experience to work for the county. He would make professionalism his main mission for the Sheriff’s Office, making training and proper equipment a priority for the officers and staff.

“I want to bring back the professionalism,” he said.

Tom Drennan, a 23-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, has worked his way up through the ranks, including the past nine years as chief deputy.

Drennan lost a close Republican primary by 21 votes. He remains a candidate through the Reform and Independence parties.

He said he has the experience and commitment to take the Sheriff’s Office to a higher level of professionalism. He wants to make the Sheriff’s Office an accredited agency through the state. That would establish procedures and standardization for deputies and staff, Drennan said.

Organisciak also said he would support accreditation because it would make the Sheriff’s Office more efficient and reduce insurance costs. Bower said he wasn’t convinced about the accreditation because he doesn’t want the state dictating how the Sheriff’s Office is run.

Both Drennan and Bower have said who would serve as their undersheriff. Bower named Chris Bourke, a lieutenant with the Sheriff’s Office with three decades of experience. Drennan on Monday announced Brett Sobieraski, a sergeant with the Rochester Police Department and a Kent resident, would serve in the role if Drennan is elected.

Organisciak said he is interviewing people for undersheriff and may make an annoucement next week. His choice as undersheriff will have law enforcement experience, he said.

Organisciak and Drennan said the election is for the sheriff.

“You’re not voting for the undersheriff,” Organisciak said. “You need to lead by example.You’re the sheriff.”

Mattie Zarpentine, a leader of New York Revolution, said the group wants to help educate voters about the candidates and encourage people to vote on Nov. 3.

Drennan reluctantly named an undersheriff because he said the issue was becoming a distraction. Sobieraski has a 27-year career in law enforcement, starting with the Lockport Police Departmentand then the past 23 years with the Rochester Police Department, including the past 15 as a supervising sergeant with the Greater Rochester Area Narcotics Enforcement Team.

Sobieraski also has been a training officer, and Drennan said the Sheriff’s Office has several new deputies who would benefit from training and mentoring from Sobieraski.

Drennan said he would be an active leader for the Sheriff’s Office, and would be capable of helping with investigations and other issues.

“This whole race should be about the sheriff,” Drennan said. “The sheriff can’t rely on the undersheriff doing the work for him.”

Bower said Bourke is well known among residents, business owners and highway workers. Bourke is accessible and would be a leader with community policing, Bower said.

Bower said he is striving to build a team in the Sheriff’s Office that would serve the community from law enforcement, emergency communications, the jail, animal control, and the civil division.

The candidates were asked about turnover in the Sheriff’s Office, with some deputies leaving to work for other departments.

Organisciak said the Sheriff’s Department used to be the top destination for law enforcement in the county, but that started to change about 15 to 20 years ago. Some deputies left the Sheriff’s Department to work for either the Albion or Medina Police Departments. Others left to work in neighboring counties.

Organisciak said the county needs to be committed to training and the proper equipment to keep deputies.

“I would bring professionalism, integrity and loyalty back so it is a place men and women want to come to work,” he said.

Don Organisciak answers a question in the debate. Mattie Zarpentine, front left, and Steve Aldstadt are in the front table with a crowd of about 200 behind them.

Drennan said the county hasn’t been as competiive with pay, not only with surrounding counties but also with Albion and Medina police. That gap has narrowed in recent years, he said. The Sheriff’s Office should at least be able to match the pay of the local village police departments, he said.

However, some nearby counties pay a third more to double the pay offered by the county.

“We’ve made some adjustments with pay,” Drennan said. “We’ll never meet Monroe, Niagara or even Genesee, but we have to at least pay what the villages do.”

Bower said boosting morale for the employees will be a top priority.

“We will make it a place where the men and women really want to work,” he said.

The candidates were also asked about increasing diversity among deputies and staff, and the possibility of the Sheriff’s Office taking over all local law enforcement or perhaps more shared services with the village police departments.

The candidates all said they favor a diverse staff. Drennan said there are several deputies who are women. He would welcome officers who are black, and urged them to take the Civil Service exam and apply.

The county is pursuing a grant that would study shared services among existing police departments and the Sheriff’s Office, with the possibility of dissolving the village police and having the Sheriff’s Office expand its work.

Bower and Organisciak said they worry the village residents would get less service in such a scenario. They would only back it with village approval.

Drennan said the Sheriff’s Office could handle the added work with more deputies and staff. He said the Sheriff’s Office would have to add police substations outside Albion in such a scenario, which he said might make the most sense for the county’s policing services.

The three canddiates all said they were open to body cameras on officers because they cameras can help prove cases or make cases stronger when evidence is presented to the district attorney. The cameras also would raise the level of professionalism.

“It’s a good tool to help officers get up to another level,” Organisciak said.

All three candidates also said they would work to uphold the Constitution and would bring a strong work ethic to the job.