Niagara County will soon have an elected sheriff, nearly a year after Jim Voutour retired. Michael Filicetti has been acting every since and is seeking a full term against challenger Brian Grear.
The acting sheriff is endorsed by five political parties. Challenger Brian Grear is a retired sheriff's deputy, current Lewiston Police officer and small businessman. He has the Working Families Party endorsement.
Grear said he couldn't even get an interview with another party.
"There's only one political party that interviewed both candidates with an oral board interview as well as a 104-page questionnaire," he said. "That one party was the Working Families Party and you already know who ended up with their endorsement."
Both candidates were under the age of 21 when they first put on police uniforms and have made long careers on the job. Both recognize how hard it is to police a rural and thinly populated county like Niagara.
The acting sheriff said the department has been updated in recent years and it shows, as a county task force does the reform study for police agencies required by Albany.
"A lot of the push is for body cameras or Tasers, being an accredited agency, having your personnel complete crisis intervention training, making sure that your policies conform with New York State, which we do that for accreditation," Filicetti said. "So there's a lot of tenets of police reform when you read through the guideline, a 138-page manual, that we do."
With a fatal shooting in Lockport apparently growing out of a dispute, Felicetti said police agencies across Niagara County are also linking up over violence.
"We have a county-wide task force now, that's addressing that very issue of violent crime in our cities. We're tackling that together," he said. "Again, no one agency has the resources to do that on their own, so we use the force multiplier and we go after the people with the guns that are causing these problems and hurting people in these communities."
Niagara is a county with closely interlinked police agencies. All but one use the Sheriff's Department dispatch center, which is now being re-worked and renovated. Grear said it's about time.
"Our dispatch center is a mess," Grear said. "We need reorganization in our dispatch center. Talking to the personnel in there and what goes on in there on a daily basis, they're overworked in there. The job that they're tasked to do in there, as difficult as it is on top of all the stress related to it, there's things that I would like to do and improve and streamline that."
Grear said there is also a need to ease some of the tensions and problems among police agencies behind the scenes and he can do that, as someone with experience on both sides.
The challenger also wants to have the department look a little less white, which the county has been working on. Grear stressed the value of what amounts to community policing, like on the Tuscarora reservation.
"When you're out there, when you're working, when you're driving through the reservation, you're stopping at the smoke shops, you're talking to the employees pumping gas, you got a dialogue going. You know their names. They know you. They tell you, 'Hey, Jim Jones over there is growing some weed behind his house.' You can't get that type of dialogue just sitting in your car," he said.
It's a big county and the Sheriff's Department is the police force for most of it, particularly along Lake Ontario and approaching the Orleans County line. Felicetti said it's a big change for him from being the Number 2 person in the department.
"So it is different. It's certainly different," he said. "I enjoy the job. I've been in law enforcement since I've been 20 years old, so I've been doing this for quite a while. I wouldn't have chosen to do any other career. It's been an amazing journey."