Interview with Jeff Smith, candidate for Montgomery County Sheriff

“I think the most important thing that a sheriff can be is a true community partner,” said Montgomery County sheriff candidate Jeff Smith at a recent interview. Smith is one of two candidates running to replace the long-time, retiring Sheriff Mike Amato in this November’s election.

Although managing patrol officers is often the first thing people think about in regards to the office, Smith said, “The sheriff is responsible for so many different things from the correctional facility, to the 911 answering point, to the civil office.”

During the interview, Smith outlined many of his ideas to improve the various facets of the sheriff’s office, and talked about the work experience that he would bring to the job if elected.

Based on his experience working at the sheriff’s department in various roles nearly continuously since 1988, Smith said that improving the morale of sheriff department staff is one of his first priorities.

“We’ve got to fix the morale issue. Morale is at the lowest point it’s been in 30 years that I’m aware of,” said Smith.

According to Smith, switching patrol officer shifts from eight hours to twelve hours is one change that he feels confident would be preferable to officers and would also benefit the department.

“It cuts down on sick time, saves on overtime, creates more consistent scheduling, helps provide staff out on the street consistently because your schedule is the same on a two-week rotating basis. Fixing those morale issues, the happier our employees are, the better job they do for the public. The better job they do for the public, the better it makes the sheriff’s office look and you have a positive experience,” said Smith.

Smith also believes the department can do better at “recruitment, reward, and retention” of sheriff department staff.

“I don’t believe we do a good enough job right now trying to recruit correction officers or employees in general,” said Smith.

Recruiting at the many job fairs throughout the area including the one held at Fulton Montgomery Community College every year is one idea Smith said he would bring to the department. He also mentioned other recruiting methods such as utilizing the Fulton Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, advertising, and holding open houses.

“I want to hold an annual open house at the office where we invite the public and our school districts and our potential future employees,” said Smith. “Give tours of the facility, display equipment, help educate people that it’s okay and it’s good to work here and there’s good jobs in this county and you can live a fairly comfortable life here.”

In regards to the county correctional facility, Smith said that revenue from the facility was once over $1 million, but that amount has declined significantly over the years.

“That’s because we had a contract to house federal inmates and we used to house other counties’ inmates,” said Smith. “Recently that’s declined drastically. I’m not here to speculate as to why, but I think that’s something that we can repair and we can move forward with it with a more positive outlook, a better relationship with the [federal] marshals in our surrounding counties in hopes of increasing that revenue a little bit.”

“Every bit of that revenue that comes into this county helps us all because that decreases the bottom line on our taxes,” he added.

Smith said he believes in fighting the problem of heroin dealing and opioid addiction by increased enforcement efforts as well as by providing counseling for those in custody. For inmates involved with heroin or other drugs, Smith said there are state-funded counseling programs that could be introduced to the county correctional system.

“I believe that you cannot arrest your way out of this problem,” said Smith. “We should be doing everything we can for the inmates when they’re in there to try to make sure that they don’t come back. That’s the ultimate goal. We’ve got to increase those programs and we’ve got to work with staff to come up with ideas, how we can make those effective for the inmates.”

From the enforcement angle, Smith envisions putting together a special drug task force made up of representatives from the sheriff’s office, all village police departments, the Amsterdam Police Department, and state police, to share information and conduct joint investigations including undercover work.

“A lot of times drug investigations involve confidential informants, which are good and we need the public to be cooperative and help us with those things, but we want to get to a situation too where the police officers are making buys. If they’re the ones doing the actual purchase of the drugs, you’re going to get a quicker turn-around, you’re going to have a more efficient case,” said Smith.

Asked about how the he sees the sheriff’s office benefiting City of Amsterdam residents, Smith pointed out that the 911 call system and the civil office, which handles evictions, orders of protection, and other civil processes, are both operated by the county for all county residents. He also mentioned that anyone leaving the city, whether to go up state route 30 or any other direction, travels through areas where the sheriff’s department has responsibility.

“If you live in the city, obviously you have your police department, but we provide backup to them,” added Smith.

Smith pointed out that he has received endorsements from Amsterdam Police Chief Greg Culick, as well as the Amsterdam Police Superior Officers Association.

“I’m very proud of that,” said Smith. “That means to me that they’ve got the confidence and they think that I have the tools and ability to manage that office and have a good working relationship. The more we work together, the better it is for those residents. The joint task force is going to mean a lot to the city because it’s going to provide local manpower to them to help with their open investigations.”

Smith stressed the importance of good communication between the various local police departments, the sheriff’s office, and the state police.

As part of his current position as the Montgomery County Emergency Services Director, Smith recalled working with local departments, state police, school districts, fire departments, emergency medical services, the FBI, and ATF to create a “high threat incidence plan” to prepare for a variety of different situations, one of which being an active shooter, which would require heavy law enforcement presence.

“We identified targets based on the history in our county, so that’s every school, some churches, county buildings, movie theaters unfortunately, shopping centers. Then we mapped them out and we created inner-perimeters, outer-perimeters, landing zones, command post locations, everything that we could do to preset this plan to try to decrease the chaos, [if] God forbid one of these things happens,” explained Smith.

Smith said that from those plans, standardized training for the entire county was developed.

“So we now have a group of police officers, one from each agency, that goes to every school and conducts the same training at every school so that staff, students, and law enforcement understand what to expect out of each other,” said Smith. “All of this has been going on the past three years. As we stand here today, we’re a lot safer than we were three years ago. You’re never going to eliminate it completely, but things have improved drastically. That’s a coalition that came out of the emergency services office and we’re very proud of that.”

Asked about second amendment rights, Smith said that he supports lawful gun ownership and that he and his immediate family are all gun owners.  Although he described the New York Safe Act as “really awful” and believes that it was passed without much input from law enforcement, he will enforce the New York State Safe Act, but will use discretion.

“Each incident has its own merits and you have to look at that, but I would say this, if somebody is violating a law in this county or this state and one of those laws is the Safe Act, especially in the commission of another crime, I would expect them to be held responsible,” said Smith.

According to Smith, state police have said it’s impossible to fully enforce the Safe Act’s requirement for all gun owners to re-certify their guns. Smith added that he has complied with the law’s requirement to re-certify his own firearm.

Smith said he does support the law’s mandated reporting by medical professionals of gun owners who are experiencing mental health issues.

“If there’s a gun owner out there that all of a sudden is having some mental health issues, you really would like to get them the help they need before there’s an incident that causes everybody a lot of problems,” said Smith.

Smith said he would like to require a class for county residents applying for pistol permits.  Although it may raise the cost of a permit, Smith said the benefits would be worth it.

“Right now, people are just getting the permit, they’re handed the gun and they go off and they don’t necessarily know how to use it. They don’t know necessarily know what the laws are in New York State, how to lawfully own it and be a good responsible owner. That’s one of my proposals that’s in the plans for the civil office is to adapt that process.”

According to Smith’s resume, he currently serves part time as the director of Montgomery County Emergency Management Services, and part time as an officer in the St. Johnsville Police Department. He has held both positions since 2014. Before that, he served as undersheriff at the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office from 2003-2014. He has also served in a variety of roles nearly continuously since 1988 in the sheriff’s office, including, lieutenant road patrol, sergeant road patrol, K-9 patrol, deputy sheriff road patrol, and corrections officer. He also previously served on the Fort Plain Police Department and as a trustee for the Village of Fort Plain. He has been a volunteer fire fighter in the Fort Plain Fire Department for 30 years, and served as chief from 2014 to 2017. He has also served on a variety of different boards including the Montgomery County Office for the Aging and St. Mary’s Hospital.

On his campaign website, Smith lists numerous endorsements from police officers, fire firefighters, unions, and other local government officials.

“Endorsements really don’t mean a lot except those are individuals or organizations that have examined my platform or interviewed me in person and have confidence in my abilities,” said Smith.

“When all that’s said and done though, this is a team. This is not me. I’m not going to go in there and fix everything. It’s got to be the employees, the public, and the administration combined together. Those three really have to work together on fixing some of these issues and creating a better platform for us to present our office to the public.”

“I want to be something the public’s proud of. I want them to say, ‘We’re from Montgomery County. We have the best sheriff’s office in the state. We’re not afraid to call our sheriff’s office. We’re confident in their abilities.’ I want to do all that with being fiscally responsible, which may sound difficult, but I think it’s doable.”

Recently, Smith announced that if elected, he intends to appoint Carl Rust, a 30 year veteran of the Amsterdam Police Department as his undersheriff.

Smith will appear on the Republican, Conservative, Independence, and Reform party lines. His opponent, Jim Glorioso, will appear on the Democratic, Woman’s Equality, and Working Families party lines.

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Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.