We asked our columnist and former police officer, Rich Lovelace, for his insights on being an officer during these troubled times. Rich did us one better by also interviewing Livingston County Sheriff Tom Dougherty for his perspective on law enforcement in 2023.
In an interview with Sheriff Tom Dougherty, I was on the lookout for some sanity in this crazy world. We have so much information and most of it does not pertain to us. It only affects us if we let it get us upset, even though it has no direct connection to us or anyone we know. It is news about celebrities, politicians, and rich people. I am not any of those, and I am too busy to care about them. I certainly don’t share most of their values. Neither, I think, do you.
Let’s start thinking closer to home and forget the reality the news is trying to create for us. Tom Dougherty has been sheriff of Livingston county for almost ten years. “It flew by. It doesn’t seem possible, really,”Dougherty said. For three election cycles, the citizens of Livingston County have been convinced that he is a man of good character and up for the job of Sheriff. He believes your confidence comes from his character and from his service as a deputy and now as Sheriff. So appreciative of your votes, Dougherty states that asking for them is “asking for a lot from people and they are putting their full trust in you.” He says, “I have always understood the great responsibility I was taking on. When things are going awry, you go to your sheriff.”
When asked where his character came from, he was quick to say his mom and dad gave him a firm foundation and an appreciation for organization, a sound work ethic, and the importance of a good education. He says he is an “old soul,” with a values system well suited for his great-grandfather’s generation. I know his feeling that he is from another time period. It’s probable that you feel that way too, when world and national events depict behaviors that would make our grandparents shake their heads in disbelief.
Sheriff Dougherty has one focus, public safety. Training, equipment, and mindset are what keeps the force prepared for the unthinkable like riots, violent protests, and the worst-case scenario: an active shooter. These are so hard because you have no warning, no way to predict location, type, and number of victims. The Sheriff states this will always be at the top of their list and is the main reason for constant training, the most sophisticated equipment, communication with schools and other public places regarding best practices for safety.
His philosophy is you serve the people, and you keep them safe and if you do not do your job, they fire you with their votes next election day.
I have just over thirteen years’ service as a cop, and listening to the news, I worry about my brothers and sisters in blue. I wanted to see how concerned I need to be for them. The recruitment video on the Sheriff’s Department webpage shows a well-equipped, well trained dedicated staff who seem up to the challenges of modern times. Some might think that drones, sophisticated weaponry, and their MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle) are just toys the department is collecting, but I can attest that when I was on patrol in the 1980s and 90s, we did not have to dread an active shooter or a riot or even suspect violence on our persons. Sheriff Dougherty sees these things as “necessary in 2023 to keep people safe.” I agree that preparing for the worst is a prudent practice.
Aside from the physical threats and challenges of law enforcement, is the quagmire of much recent legislation. Social law changes like those about abortion or transgender rights might irritate us but have little effect on the mission of the Sheriff’s department. The Sheriff says other new laws like those pertaining to Gun control, bail reform, discovery reform, the HALT act (jail) put sheriff’s departments “right in the blender,” in terms of complying with the rules for cops that come along with the laws. Experienced law enforcement officials are rarely consulted nor are they given the chance to debate before Albany churns out unvetted faulty legislation that needs to go back to the chambers to be tweaked as it fails in practice. The laws create duties that must be executed by the agencies or they risk becoming criminalized or told they are acting inappropriately. Sheriffs by and large are committed to following the rules but must balance this with their responsibilities under the U.S. Constitution.
Your sheriff is the one who decides the practicability of any laws promulgated. This all gets crazy when legislation is passed that makes a law-abiding citizen guilty of an offense before they become aware of a change in law that now makes previously legal activities criminal.
For over 200 years the Sheriff has been the bastion of common sense in law enforcement. Sheriffs are elected by the people and answer directly to the people. They care about their constituents and are committed to keeping them safe. Local and state law enforcement act at the pleasure of the Mayor or Governor. A sheriff answering to the people eliminates politics from the position giving the sheriff the ability to do what is right without imposition by politicians. According to Sheriff Dougherty a successful sheriff will “Do what he believes is right every single day and take it all back to the voters every four years.”
So, will sheriff’s departments ever be undermined by extreme ideologies? Not according to Sheriff Dougherty, who says “Sheriff’s offices are as strong as the sheriff and the sheriff’s offices in the region. They care about their people. They are doing the job for the right reason. Making decisions based on public safety, not politics. Sheriff’s offices are uniquely positioned. The Sheriff is directly accountable to the people.” Ideologies will never be able to undermine the sheriff’s office unless the people succumb to the same ideology.
What about the fact that it seems some people are calling what we knew as good, evil and what we knew to be evil, good? If you watch the news you see these contradictions and there is usually some fringe group stoking the fire. Consider all of the rioting in 2020 and the demonizing of police in general. We have to hold fast to our upbringing to know what is right and rely on one of Sheriff Dougherty’s quotes from the department’s website: “when you know in your heart what’s right, then you step up and do it.”
Is the world going crazy and getting more offensive? Yes, but you are in very good hands, Livingston County. Keep the faith and do not let the news drive you crazy.