Sheriff Don Smith, a Republican, is facing Democrat and former sheriff ’s investigator Robert Langley for the top cop job in the county. Former NYPD captain Andrew DeStefano is waging a write-in campaign but isn’t on a party line. The term runs for four years.
When Donald Smith explains to voters why he should continue as sheriff of Putnam County, he points to the numbers.
Putnam has been the safest county in New York State the last seven years and the last three years it has had the lowest property crime rate, violent and overall crime rate in the entire state.
Smith said crime has been reduced because the sheriff ’s office has the right culture to serve residents and put constituents first. He noted the sheriff ’s office has outstanding leaders, including five captains that help run the department. Training for sheriff personnel has been enhanced over the years, Smith said, and the sheriff’s office has worked with local town departments cohesively. The school resource officer program has been recognized nationally and the county marine patrol has stepped up in places like Lake Mahopac.
“We have provided vision and leadership that has brought the law enforcement and emergency services at the federal, state, regional and local levels together, sharing resources, information, technology, and personnel to accomplish the unified mission of keeping all of us safe,” Smith, who has served for four terms, said. to fight the drug scourge.
“Plain and simple our number one priority is to protect all people,” Smith, a former brigadier general, said, noting that must include the most vulnerable in the population.
Opponent Robert Langley has hit Smith hard over the settlement with former district attorney Adam Levy that cost taxpayers $125,000. He has questioned if Smith can go after Levy, are other residents safe. Smith said while he is prevented from discussing the Levy case, he stressed his office has a long history of serving county citizens and “preserving the rights and dignity of everyone.”
Smith said the sheriff’s office is dedicated to the “fair and impartial administration of justice.”
When addressing the approximately $5 million the county has dealt with in settlements stemming from the sheriff’s office between 2006 and 2014, Smith stated it is an unenviable reality that the sheriff’s offices across the state operate in the most heavily litigated area of the law. He noted cases are settled often because lawyers recommend it to avoid unpredictable results and to mitigate risk.
He noted New York City settles cases for $216 million in a single year, which regardless of population differences puts Putnam’s legal settlements in perspective.
“The sheriff’s office settlement experience during my tenure actually compares favorably to the claims experienced in many other jurisdictions,” Smith said.
Smith is a big proponent of gun rights and believes the 2nd Amendment makes residents safer and gun owners deter violence and crime. Strict gun control doesn’t work, Smith said, because a criminal will always find a way to get a weapon.
Smith said while his opponent has law enforcement experience, he has no leadership or supervisory experience in law enforcement.
Smith believes he has helped unify law enforcement and the entire emergency services team in Putnam and has the experience to continue to move the county forward.
“This has not happened by chance or accident,” Smith said. “I have the education, training and experience gained over a lifetime of service to the nation and to the citizens of Putnam County.”
Returning integrity to the office and fighting the drug epidemic have been hallmarks of candidate Robert Langley’s campaign for county sheriff.
Langley said the most important message he’s communicating with voters is the opioid crisis is not being addressed in Putnam and there is more that can be done to fix it. He stressed drug addicts need treatment, rather than jail time, calling it a disease.
“Addiction isn’t a crime,” Langley said, noting that if those addicts aren’t helped they’ll commit crimes like robbery and property crimes. “These are all drug related.”
He said every justice court in the county needs to have a drug court available to addicts and a program should be in place in the county jail to treat drug addiction. Drug interdiction patrol should be emphasized in the county to choke off the supply entering the community.
Langley said he wants to return integrity to the sheriff’s office and as sheriff he vowed he would be honest about everything. He slammed Smith for his admitted untruths about the former district attorney Adam Levy’s conduct during a rape investigation. Langley stressed a sheriff needs to set the example for the rest of the department personnel.
As a result of the retraction letter Smith sent to Levy, Langley believes the community trust with the sheriff has disappeared and Smith’s leadership has failed because of his focus on politics.
“If Sheriff Smith is willing to fabricate and target the top law enforcement agent in this county, what’s to stop him from targeting anyone else,” Langley said, referring to the Alexandru Hossu rape case that ended in an acquittal and a civil lawsuit connected to that case has been filed.
There have been at least $5 million in settlements connected to the sheriff ’s office since 2006 to 2014, which Langley called “completely unacceptable” and “alarming.” He has also referred to Smith as a “criminal” because he sent letters to he New York State and federal offices providing seemingly false information about Levy and possibly told untruths during a deposition. Langley said those actions send the wrong message to rank and file officers.
He said community policing will rebuild that trust with more interaction between the sheriff ’s department and residents and that increased trust will lead to a safer county. Langley is also a proponent of body cameras because it would protect officers similar to a dash camera on a patrol vehicle.
“The men and women that work there; they’re good people,” Langley said. “They just need proper leadership.”
Concerning gun rights, Langley said he supports the Constitution “100 percent,” including the 2nd Amendment. He said the SAFE Act in New York State is the law of the land and it’s his job to follow it, but he did stress as a law enforcement official, he does have the ability to exercise discretion.
Langley said he’s had several different leadership positions in his life. He was a senior patrol deputy that entailed supervising shifts and making decisions when a sergeant wasn’t present. He has also been a leader in volunteer fire service, including as a lieutenant, captain, and assistant chief in the county.
“I’ve never been reckless in my leadership,” Langley said. “All of this carries over.”
Langley said his past experience in the sheriff’s department helps him deeply understand the top cop job. He said he’s worked all the divisions in the sheriff’s department and knows what’s required of the department and the men and women that work there.
“I am uniquely qualified for the position, I’m the right choice, I have the law enforcement experience, I have leadership, and I have integrity,” Langley said.