In anticipation of the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7, The Current asked each candidate for Putnam County sheriff to respond in writing to questions posed by reporter Michael Turton. The candidates are presented in alphabetical order. The sheriff serves a four-year term. The Republican incumbent, Donald Smith, is seeking his fifth term against challengers Robert Langley Jr., the Democratic candidate, and Andrew DeStefano, who is campaigning as a write-in.
What do you see as the priorities for the sheriff’s office?
DeStefano: The office has had a 16-year run of being mismanaged by a sheriff with no law-enforcement experience or training. That has directly led to Putnam County unnecessarily being included in this out-of-control opioid epidemic, drug-infested schools, skyrocketing traffic accidents, unchecked domestic violence, criminals with outstanding warrants that are years old, multiple misconduct lawsuits and, worst of all, a real disconnect between the sheriff and large parts of the county, including the forgotten western side. Many parts of the county have not seen the sheriff in years.
Putnam needs the command experience, command training and command law enforcement background of a police leader who’s had a career being held accountable for results and has excelled under such a system of tight accountability. As a Ph.D. candidate studying advanced crime analysis and a retired New York City police captain, in this election I alone have the exclusive ability to bring that department into the 21st century utilizing concepts found to be successful in any size police department, big and small.
Langley: The priorities are opioids, community policing, and returning integrity. I will disrupt the supply of opioids coming into Putnam County and decrease demand by addressing addiction. I will fight for misdemeanor-level alternative courts that help people sooner and reduce crime quicker. Violent and property crimes were up in Putnam in 2016 — crimes often attributable to drug-related activity. Don Smith is not telling you the whole truth about crime in Putnam. I will be tough on crime. Period. I will enhance the effectiveness of our deputies by re-emphasizing community policing. I am a career law-enforcement officer. I’m honest and law-abiding. I will be a sheriff you can trust.
Smith: The top priority for the office is to protect the people of Putnam County and keep everyone safe from crime, especially amidst the drug and opioid crisis. It’s our priority to have all first responders work together to keep Putnam a great and safe place to live, work and raise a family. We work at every level to fight the opioid crisis by every means: prevention, education awareness, treatment programs and enforcing drug laws. We know that the U.S. cannot “arrest its way” out of the crisis. We support the Putnam County Drug Treatment Court and encourage the courts to expand this program at the local level. Our priority is to protect everyone, especially our most vulnerable populations — children, senior citizens and people with disabilities.
What are your views on consolidation of police services in the county?
DeStefano: As sheriff, I will carry out the mandate of residents as it relates to any consolidation, as it is their tax money, and I will do so to the best of my ability, whatever their decision may be. In any event, as sheriff I will see to it that every part of the county has access to department resources.
Langley: Consolidation can’t be a top-down decision — the discussion needs to engage the people we serve. There are many questions to consider. How would consolidation affect the level and quality of police protection in individual communities? What are the financial ramifications? How would infrastructure be organized? Would town and village police stations become substations or would all patrols be deployed from Carmel? How would that impact response times? How would our officers and support staff be redeployed to maintain jobs? The sheriff must control taxpayers’ costs but never at the sacrifice of community protection.
Smith: Our democratic system of government is based on the separation of powers; government is empowered by the people at various levels. In that spirit, the Sheriff’s Office partners with local, town and village departments providing needed support such as narcotics enforcement, investigation, canine, road patrol and marine support. We work closely with all police agencies in our county and our district attorney. We provide support to our schools through the School Resource Officer Program. We do our part to keep our county safe through communication, coordination, cooperation and support of our emergency service first responders. Any consolidation initiatives are a “home-rule” issue.
Putnam Sheriff’s Race
Revenue and expenses, as of Nov. 1
Friends of Langley
Largest donors: Zaklad Rafael ($2,500), Putnam Democratic Committee ($1,000), Philipstown Democrats ($500); in-kind donation of $1,000 from James Borkowski for lawn signs
Friends of Don Smith
Previous balance: $13,882
Largest donors: William Butt ($2,000), George Wipple ($1,309), Teamsters ($1,000)
Source: New York State Board of Elections. As a write-in candidate, DeStefano has not filed campaign expenditures and revenues with the state.
Integrity has been raised as an issue during the campaign. How does your record qualify in that regard?
DeStefano: In law enforcement, integrity has several meanings. Under this sheriff, the systems are corrupted, much like a computer. There exists no system of quality assurance to ensure the integrity, or accuracy, of crime reporting. Therefore, there is virtually zero credibility in the “safest county” slogan. With road supervision, there exists no meaningful “no-chase” policy under this sheriff, which has led to many unsupervised, unnecessary, high-speed car chases. In 2016 alone, one unsupervised high-speed chase for a relatively low-level offense led to a crash and the deaths of three people and five lawsuits filed against taxpayers. And there is no integrity of investigations.
The Alexandru Hossu case, in which a politically-motivated arrest resulted in a $45 million lawsuit against you, the taxpayers, never would have occurred had this department instituted a crime-control model which relies upon comprehensive and timely data analysis. That wrongful arrest would have been shut down immediately. In modern policing, integrity is not simply a word to stick on a political sign but rather a system designed to manage police operations to keep everything running the way it’s supposed to. Only years of major-league experience can make integrity happen.
Langley: I will return integrity to the office of sheriff. I’m a real cop with real policing experience, having served 23 years in the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department. I’ve worked in corrections, patrol duty and forensics. I was cited for outstanding service in 2002 and 2003, and twice in both 2004 and 2005. I received commendations for my service to the mentally ill, my exemplary performance in narcotics investigations and arrests, for criminal apprehensions and for giving life-saving assistance to a fellow deputy. In my service as a volunteer firefighter I received the 2012 Meritorious Service Award and the Medal of Honor from the Garrison Fire Company.
Smith: I have dedicated my life to serving in two of our most noble and honored professions — the U.S. military and law enforcement. I stand behind my 16-year record serving as sheriff for all the people in Putnam County in providing leadership for the law enforcement and emergency services team that keeps Putnam County the safest county in New York and one of the safest counties in the U.S. Each and every day we serve with integrity, dignity and respect. The people of Putnam County know me and what I stand for.
Should the sheriff be an elected position?
DeStefano: A benefit to having an elected sheriff is having one chosen by the people. A negative to having an elected sheriff is what we see right now in Putnam County, a politically powerful politician who has the money and friends to stay in office while running the department into the ground. This election is a perfect example: I collected more than enough legal signatures, yet the sheriff’s protector at the Board of Elections unlawfully invalidated my petitions anyway, deliberately preventing a Republican primary the incumbent clearly would have lost.
Langley: I believe the office of the sheriff should be an elected position because the people’s vote maintains a check and balance on power. The people should choose who they feel is the most qualified individual to protect the residents of Putnam County and our Constitutional rights. The election process enables the people an opportunity to make necessary changes to the system when our interests and assets need better protection. After 16 years and four terms under Smith, now is the opportunity for the people to bring change for the better.
Smith: The office of sheriff should be an elected position directly accountable to the people. Historically, those elected to serve in that office have been defenders of the principles of our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, protecting our civil liberties and freedom. The proud history of the office of sheriff as the chief law enforcement of the county has served us well and today most of the 3,080 sheriffs serving across the U.S. continue to be elected.
What additional resources does the department need to do its job effectively?
DeStefano: None. This department already has the blocks and people in place to succeed in the 21st century. What they need is a sheriff with the command experience and training to implement a crime-control model. Nothing in this Sheriff’s Department is measured, and what gets measured gets done. And no one is held accountable for results. There is no more faking his way through this. In this race I’m the only candidate with the knowledge and background to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.
Langley: All of our officers should wear body cameras, so both our deputies and the public are held accountable. I’d like to deploy the resources we already have more strategically. I’ve patrolled every mile of Putnam County. I know our communities, and I understand the capacity of existing police forces. I know where deputies need a strong presence and where they serve best as backup. I will match protection to needs, deploying services for optimal safety and cost efficiency. I will emphasize community policing and get our deputies into communities. Distance between deputies and the people they work for is not strategically advantageous. We all need to trust each other and work together.
Smith: We continue to have a positive relationship with our county executive and the Legislature and work to submit a responsible budget that provides the programs we need to help keep the county safe. We strive to limit the burden on our taxpayers and keep Putnam with one of the lowest county-level taxes in the state. Our low and declining crime rate is indicative that we are getting the needed resources. We may need more resources as we continue to fight the war on drugs and opioid abuse.