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Derek Osbourne

Derek Osbourne is running for Sheriff on the Democratic Party line.  He grew up in Cortland, NY and began his career in law enforcement there, working six and a half years as a Cortland City policeman before becoming a Tompkins County Deputy Sheriff in 2001.  He retired from the Sheriff's Office in 2015 after working his way up from Deputy to Undersheriff. After that he worked with federal inmates in Syracuse.  He is currently Head of Security, Disaster Management and Business Continuity at CFCU, among other responsibilities there.  This week he announced that, if elected, he will appoint Jennifer 'Jenn' Olin as his undersheriff, which would make her the first woman to serve as undersheriff in Tompkins County.

Osbourne lives in Lansing with his fiancé Erin -- soon to be wife -- and have three daughters.  She is a member of Lansing's Conlon family, who grew up in Trumansburg.  Their wedding was delayed for the campaign, so perhaps his most important campaign promise is to Erin, that the wedding will take place soon after election day no matter which way the election goes.  But for voters Osbourne is running on a platform of improving community engagement, promoting diversity, compassionate approaches toward enforcing the opioid epidemic, fiscal responsibility, improved crime response, and working with criminals in the jail to prevent future victimization.

Lansing Star Lansing Star: Why are you the best candidate for Sheriff?

Derek Osbourne Derek Osbourne: I grew up in the Sheriff's Office, so to speak.  I started there as a deputy.  Moved my way up to Investigator, Senior Investigator in charge of the Investigative Division.  Then I was promoted to Captain and lastly Undersheriff.  So I think I have a wide array of experience in the Sheriff's Office.

I think I'm the candidate whose heart is most in this.  I'm seeking to return to the Sheriff's Office because i truly want to be there, and truly make a difference in our community.

Lansing Star What would you say the top couple of issues are that need to be addressed in the next four year term?

Derek Osbourne The number one issue is fiscal responsibility.  I've made no bones about it in my campaign.  I'm very proud of the fact that when I was Undersheriff the overtime, for example, was at historic lows the entire four years I was Undersheriff.  Six months after I left it ballooned out of proportion to such an extent that the COunty Legislature had to take $282,000 out of the contingent fund to balance the budget.  And that line item in the budget has remained consistently high, and at that level, ever since.

So that's the first thing I need to tackle, to get that back under wraps, because it is our money.  It's taxpayer money and i don't think it's been well spent at this point.

Secondly community engagement is a big thing for me.  The County did the CGR study.  It was published in 2017.  What they were focused on at that point was examining sheriff services, or the opportunity for sheriff services amongst law enforcement departments.  One thing that came out of that was the public comment section.  There were a lot of public comments that were rather negative about the Sheriff's office, along the lines that they don't feel engaged with the Sheriff's office as they may do with other law enforcement agencies in the County.

Being in the Sheriff's Office for so long, that really hurt to hear that.  So I want to tackle that.

Those are the top two, for sure.

Lansing Star How bad is the drug problem in Tompkins County?  If budget were no object, what would you have the Sheriff's Department do that it is not currently doing to reduce drug related crime?

Derek Osbourne The drug problem's bad.  But, having been in law enforcement as long as I have been, there's always been a drug problem.  I'm clearly convinced that the War on Drugs that we all grew up with -- or at least I did -- has failed.  It hasn't worked.  It hasn't been enough.

What really is different right now is the type of drugs being used, and the method in which people are becoming addicted.  The drug problem isn't just facing the stereotypical drug person that we all think of, or, at least, I thought of for so many years.

Lansing Star The drug dealer on the corner...

Derek Osbourne Yes, exactly.  It was so much easier to dismiss in the past, because we could always say that person made a bad choice.  They deserve what they get.  Or they need to be arrested.  Or whatever.  But it's different now.  It's affecting everybody.  It's affecting families.  It's affecting a lot of people who didn't seek to become addicted.  Maybe they had an issue with pain management and were over-prescribed medicine from their physician that led to this problem.

So I think it has to be tackled differently.

As far as the budget, the Sheriff's Office really comes into the most contact with people that are drug-addicted through the jail.  I would love to see more programs where we can target drug addiction when people pass through the jail, and set them up for services when they leave.  And make sure they stay on the path.

Because a lot of them do get cleaned up, so to speak, while they're incarcerated, but then we release them to the same environment and they fall into the same traps.  So I'd like to see that extended beyond the jail, for sure.  And that does cost money.

Lansing Star The County is studying shared facilities for the Sheriff Department and the Ithaca City Police.  Would moving the Sheriff Department downtown make it easier or harder to perform Sheriff Department functions?  Likewise, if local departments were to merge, how would that impact law enforcement outside of the city?

Derek Osbourne I look at this, and I've seen a lot of comments from people in social media where they're jumping to the conclusion that if we share a facilty, that means IPD and the Sheriff's Office is merging.  That's not what I've learned, or what I'm thinking is the goal here.  I think it's simply a cost saving measure in sharing a facility.

So I don't really think it would impact us in any way.  It doesn't matter to me if I'm in the same building as the Ithaca Police or not.  One thing that I'm interested in is response times for patrols.  Ideally, if the Sheriff's Office was relocated to the City of Ithaca, I think it would improve response times for the entire county.

Definitely.  It's more difficult...

Lansing Star Because it's more central?

Derek Osbourne It's more central, yes.  We have state routes kind of spider-webbing out of the City of Ithaca to all areas of the County, as opposed to now, where it's in the Town of Lansing it's very difficult if you have to make quick time to, say, Trumansburg -- to make it through the City of Ithaca.  We've all experienced that.

So in that sense I think it's a good idea, and I think there are other things that could come from that where we could share services and save some money.  So I think overall it's positive and I don't think it is anything people should be afraid of or shy away from.

Lansing Star The Hornbrook Road standoff seems to have been a defining incident for the Sheriff's Department.  It was just in the news again.  If you could go back in time (and if you were Sheriff at that time) what would you do differently, if anything, and why?

Derek Osbourne I think one of the big lessons learned from that entire incident was we need to communicate better as an agency with other county officials, and town officials in that area.  A lot of people didn't understand what was going on and it was hard for people.  They had responsibility to community members to help make decisions that would make things easier.  There were a lot of roads closed, and things like that.  People were kind of left in the dark.

As far as what I would have done if I was Sheriff... it was pretty telling to me when a high-up official of the State Police arrived early in that incident.  He informed people there that if was a State Police call they would simply secure the place and wait the gentleman out.  They wouldn't try to make entry.  They wouldn't take things to the extent they did.

That's how I've always been trained, and i think that would have been a better course of action, for sure.

I've been SWAT certified.  I've been to the trainings in the past.  It was always taught that if it's just one person in a residence refusing to come out there's no reason to take that much action.  If it's a hostage situation, then obviously that's different, but that's not what we had there that night.

Lansing Star It kind of turned into a mini-Waco.

Derek Osbourne Yeah, it did.  Unfortunately there were a lot of good officers there that did a really good job with what they do and what their training was in.  I can't condemn them.  For an incident like that the saying ' leadership starts at the top' -- that plays true here.

Lansing Star Is the Sheriff Department making the best use of its Web site and social media to provide information to the press and the public?  (The Sheriff's Department used to produce an annual report that included, among other things, annual county crime statistics.  Should this be revived?)

Derek Osbourne I'm running to improve community engagement.  i think that's a key aspect of that, for sure.  you have to be transparent about what's going on, and the interactions you're having with the community, good or bad.  That should be shared on the Web site, Facebook, things of that sort.

As far as the annual report, I remember those.  They were very good.  I didn't realize that wasn't occuring now, but that is something I would be highly interested in bringing back.

Lansing Star I can't say 100% that they're not happening.   It's just that i can't find them anywhere any more.

Derek Osbourne That's a problem, too.  If they're happening and people can't find them, that's just as bad.

Lansing Star The question is, what improvements should be made to public outreach?

Derek Osbourne I think right now the Sheriff's Office, perhaps, gets to pick and choose what they put out there.  i don't know if that's really the right way to go.  I think as much as possible, everything should be put out there, and let the reader decide what's important to them and what's not.  I think that's an area that can be improved.

Lansing Star Is road patrol adequate in the county?  The last time I checked there were three patrol cars out at any given time.  Is that still right?

Derek Osbourne That's still the case.  My entire career there were routinely three deputies on patrol for the entire county, plus a supervisor or a Sergeant, also in a car.

Lansing Star Again, if budget were no object, how many deputies would it take to adequately patrol the whole county (excepting municipalities with their own police)?  Would it be worth hiring new deputies to reduce overtime?

Derek Osbourne Yes, it would be.  The Sheriff's Office, historically, has always been under-staffed.  It's not only been under-staffed in the road patrol, but also in the Corrections Division.  That's what was so frustrating to me after I retired, to see the overtime figures become so high.  I didn't really see, or I'm not seeing an increase in services either.

I think some of that overtime was created and didn't really serve the public well.  It was just the result of bad decisions.  My goal is to cut that overtime down.  reduce that and manage that, and then try to use those savings to convince the Legislature to give us more people.  Because that is needed, too.  it's so understaffed that that's why you have to manage everything so effectively, to keep that overtime in check and to handle incidents when they do happen -- like Hornbrook Road or whatever, where it's manpower-intensive.

You have to be prepared for those things.

I couldn't put a figure on it, off hand, as to how many should be added.  There was a study done by DCGS years ago -- Peter Meskill had it done and I can't remember now how many more they recommended.  But it was quite a few.  So I would think having so many years passed, it would have to be looked at again.

Lansing Star How effective do you think Alternatives to incarceration has been?  Should it be expanded?  Would it be enough

Derek Osbourne I think it should be.  I think when done right it's very effective.  Not only Alternatives to incarceration, but also focus on reintegration efforts, which is important to me.  When I retired from the Sheriff's Office i was working with federal inmates in Syracuse.  These were people who had committed horrendous crimes.  But, like it or not, they're going to be released.

So my goal was, what do we do to make their transition into the community successful?  We don't want them to return, obviously, to what they were doing before.  We don't want the same crime committed, or similar crimes.  So I think anything we can do along those lines is very important.

If we can catch certain people that, on the forefront, may commit minor crimes, and maybe they don't need to be incarcerated, I think that's a positive thing.  To help curb their behavior at a young age.

Lansing Star Has the county waited too long to expand the jail?  Is the jail adequate to handle the current level of incarcerations and those anticipated over the next decade?

Derek Osbourne Here's the thing.  I don't think the jail needs to be expanded.  I do think we need a new jail.  If it's designed correctly we can house the same level of inmates -- hopefully less if that works out, too -- with less staffing.  If it's designed correctly this time around the under-staffing issue that we have in the jail would take care of itself.  As people retire maybe you wouldn't have to fill those positions.  We would benefit for that cost savings, and that would contribute to some of the expense of a new jail.

So I don't think the jail needs to be expanded in any way.  But we do need a better jail.

Lansing Star What haven't we talked about that voters should know about your candidacy?

Derek Osbourne I'd like to tell people... to know me personally, I care about this community a great deal.  Public safety has been in my heart during my entire adulthood.  I got into it to begin with -- it's funny... when I first got into it in the City of Cortland I was asked that same question, why do you want to be in law enforcement?

I said it's because I want to help people.  I'll never forget -- the Chief at the time laughed at me!  I was kind of taken aback, and I thought it was funny that he would respond that way.  But then he went on to explain that over time you do become rather cynical.  You find yourself dealing with the same people over and over again.

Over the years I found that was definitely true.  But, stepping away from it for four years like I have, and becoming a regular citizen again, I've kind of returned to that sense of... there's so much more that can be done in public safety to truly help people and to help our community.  And that's what I want to do.

If elected I will make the Sheriff's Office something everybody is proud of.

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