Sheriff candidates face off in pre-election debate

Sheriff candidates Undersheriff Jim Szczesniak and criminal investigator Tom Dougherty discussed a range of issues, including budget cuts and Stop DWI checkpoints, at the Thursday Aug. 29 debate.

In preparation for the upcoming Sept. 10 Livingston County Sheriff election, candidates Undersheriff Jim Szczesniak and criminal investigator Tom Dougherty ‘04 went head-to-head at the pre-election debate Thursday Aug. 29, hosted by the Genesee Sun and WYSL 1040 AM.

Josh Williams, publisher of the Genesee Sun, and Joe Lasky, news director of WYSL Radio, moderated the debate in the Geneseo Central School auditorium. Each presented the candidates with several randomly selected questions on a wide range of topics.

In their opening remarks, both candidates addressed how they believe their educational and career backgrounds will contribute to their potential success as sheriff. Dougherty, who has a background in the private and public sector as well as law enforcement, said he believes that his business experience is what makes him “uniquely qualified” to be the sheriff.

Submitted by Tom Dougherty

Szczesniak, who has almost 29 years of experience in the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office, said his goal as sheriff will be to provide the “best public safety in Livingston County at the most reasonable cost for the taxpayers.”

The first topic addressed was related to budget cuts and fund reallocations. Dougherty said that, rather than making cuts to the budget, he plans to better utilize the resources that already exist for the sheriff’s budget. Szczesniak said he plans to work with the federal and state partners to get a higher percentage of taxpayer dollars back into the county for the purpose of public safety.

Both candidates also saw more effective dispatching as a way to affect the budget. Dougherty said he supports “closest car dispatching,” meaning that the closest officer geographically to a call-in, whether county deputy or state trooper, would be the first responder. According to Dougherty, this would allow the county officers more flexibility to investigate issues like drug possession.

Szczesniak said he is a proponent of continuing the current “common sense dispatching,” which expects police to prioritize more severe crimes over less severe crimes when sending cars to respond.

The candidates also discussed their hopes for the future relationship between the Sheriff’s Department and the community.

“I think it’s important to be transparent with the public and for them to be able to have instant information,” Dougherty, who took credit for the establishment of the Sheriff’s Department Facebook page, said. “Communication is always a win for the community.”

Szczesniak said that he does not believe that transparency with the public is an issue for the department because of the information available on the Sheriff’s Office website, but he said he was cautious about sending the “right message going forward.”

Stop DWI checkpoints, or traffic checks designed to apprehend those driving under the influence, was another contentious issue at the debate.

“Stop DWI checkpoints are a proactive approach to make highways safer,” Szczesniak said. “It’s not an effective tool for enforcement, but it’s an effective tool for deterrence … I am not a huge proponent of Stop DWI checkpoints.”

“I am a proponent of [Stop DWI checkpoints],” Dougherty said. “They’re a huge tool to get intoxicated drivers off the roadway.”

In regards to their relationship with the Geneseo campus community specifically, both candidates said they wanted to continue the close relationship between University Police and the Geneseo Police.

“You’re going to see more of a team effort,” Dougherty said in a separate interview. “You’re going to see increased public safety.”

“The Geneseo campus is its own little community,” Szczesniak said in a separate interview. “[The Sheriff’s Office] has improved the dialogue between the campus and community. I have personally participated in some of those dialogues. We want to make sure we’re a good partner.”υ