November 7, 2006

Three Men Vie for Sheriff Title

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The sheriff’s job may be to keep peace, but today it is to win the election showdown.

Brian Robison (R), a retired Ithaca Police officer, and Timothy Little, a county deputy sheriff, are challenging incumbent Peter Meskill (D) for the title of Tompkins County Sheriff.

The four-year position will put the elected candidate at the helm of one of the county’s largest departments, managing efforts like criminal investigations, road patrol and the county jail while overseeing a $6.6 million budget.

In addition, the sheriff can expect to earn nearly $80,000 next year.
The Sun spoke to each candidate over the weekend about his qualifications and his plan of action upon election.

Peter Meskill (Democrat)

Meskill said his eight years as sheriff and his background in business management and public safety make him the best candidate.

As the county’s chief law enforcer, he said his biggest accomplishments have been professionalizing the agency, bringing in more grant dollars to enhance programs and staying within budget.

Currently, the Sheriff’s office is working to be accredited by the New York State Justice Department, which has strict standards for procedure and policy.

Meskill said his office is also working with various departments on a re-entry program for inmates. These programs will help inmates improve their chances at employment and reduce the likelihood that they will return to jail.

If re-elected, he will focus on these two projects.

His other accomplishments in office include implementation of public safety programs, such as the child safety seat program and stricter DWI enforcement.

Meskill dismissed criticisms by his opponents that the police department has suffered from low morale under his leadership.

“I think morale is pretty good,” he said, adding that neither Robison nor Little has had the interaction with the sheriff’s office and other departments to draw any legitimate conclusions.

“The county is definitely a safer place to be in the last eight years,” he said.

Brian Robison (Republican and Citizens for Change)

The retired officer cites his two decades of experience in law enforcement, including 14 years as a criminal investigator, as a key advantage over his opponents.

“Most of the department heads in Tompkins County, I worked with on real law enforcement side-by-side with them,” Robison said.

His goal is to work cooperatively with every department and increase efficiencies by sharing resources, training and information.

This collaboration would include having each police department send out a few officers to county-wide trainings, instead of sending its entire staff to department-specific trainings. This way, departments would only be missing a few people on any given day, and officers from different towns could interact with one another, Robison said.

Another of Robison’s aims is to focus more on narcotics investigations. He said his experience as investigator has taught him that narcotics are often the cause of many other crimes the sheriff’s office focuses on now.

“If you would go and attack the root problem, chances are you’re not going to have as many of those other crimes to contend with,” he said.

As part of his former police work, Robison headed the Collegetown Creeper investigation.

Other goals include controlling the budget increases at the sheriff’s office and finding better solutions to the overcrowded county jail.

Tim Little (Citizens for a Safe Tompkins)

Little said his seven years of experience as a certified police officer makes him the best candidate for sheriff.

“I know the staff. I know the performance of the staff. That learning curve is not there for me when I take office in January,” he said.

A key issue for Little is jail crowding and boarding out, which costs taxpayer dollars. Little said he wants to explore alternatives to boarding out, such as community service for inmates who have committed minor crimes. While this system is in place for probation, Little wants to expand its scope and collaborate more closely with organizers like Offender’s Aid Restitution and the Community Justice Center.

Road patrol coverage should also become more collaborative than it is now, with village and city police patrols going outside of their jurisdiction if they are the closest to the scene, Little said.

In addition, Little plans to create a traffic division in the Sheriff’s office and increase investigations into juvenile and sex crimes.

The sheriff race took on a controversial twist late last month when Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D), in a letter endorsing Meskill, included references to diversity to discuss candidate Little, an African-American.
In her letter Lifton said, “The danger in this race is that a vote for Tim Little — which some may consider as a way to show their commitment to equal opportunity and diversity — will split the Democratic and progressive vote, resulting in the election of the Republican candidate Brian Robison.”

Little and his supporters expressed outrage over Lifton’s implication that voters would only support him because he is black.

“It’s unfortunate that the people that are saying these views are not saying anything about my views on these issues,” he said.