The three candidates for Erie County Sheriff debated the issues Tuesday morning at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute.
At one point, a student panelist pointed out that current Sheriff Timothy Howard is among several county sheriffs across New York challenging the state's gun control law, or SAFE Act, in court. Howard, a Republican, was asked if he is not constitutionally obligated to uphold laws passed in Albany.
"Anytime there's a debate or conflict between the state and federal constitution, we've been taught, and it's how it should be, that the U.S. Constitution prevails," Howard said.
The first rebuttal went to Howard's Democratic challenger, retired Sheriff's Deputy Sgt. Dick Dobson.
"As police officers, we swear to uphold the Constitution. But the second part of our oath is we will enforce all of the laws of the State of New York. Gentlemen, that's whether we like the law or not," Dobson said.
The Law and Order Party candidate, Sheriff's Deputy Lt. Bert Dunn, said he thinks there are some "serious issues" with the SAFE Act.
"At this point, it's really not up to us, as police officers, what to enforce and not to enforce," said Dunn, who lost the Democratic primary to Dobson in September.
The high suicide rate in the Erie County Holding Center was also covered during today's debate. Howard said the Holding Center is a much better facility than it was four years ago.
"The real issue here is that the county government finally made available the appropriate resources to deal with the issues within the jail," Howard said.
Dobson says the situation in the Holding Center over the years is "unconscionable."
"We treat other people with dignity. If you're going to put an inmate on the floor, that person should have a mattress to sleep on," Dobson said.
St. Joe's has been hosting political debates for more than 25 years. Tuesday's forum was moderated by government teacher Ted Lina. Election Day is November 5.