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Sheriff race tough choice

On Tuesday there will be two candidates on the Republican ballot for Fulton County sheriff – incumbent Richard Giardino and former Gloversville chief of police, Donald VanDeusen.

Our editorial board met with both men last week and asked them questions ranging from what was the pivotal point that made them to decide to run for the position to their views on the legalization of marijuana and their vision for the department going forward.

And then we had a very long discussion on the pros and cons of each candidate.

We must admit it was a very hard decision because we believe both men would make a good sheriff and would put their heart and soul into the responsibility.

Sheriff Giardino has several positive attributes for the position– we believe he recognizes the seriousness the opioid epidemic in the area. He also played an important part in implementing the drug court system and his experience as a lawyer, district attorney and judge makes him uniquely qualified to deal with this issue. He also has a large social circle that helps him advocate for his department, such as implementing the boat and ski patrol.

As for the legalization of marijuana, Giardino has stated he is clearly against it.

The downside to Sheriff Giardino is that we felt there is a disconnect between him and the actual officers and staff who work under him. We also felt our questions weren’t answered directly and while we give him credit for usually responding pretty quickly when we call for information, we also feel there may be a lack of transparency with the department.

While we receive police blotter from every other agency in the area on a regular basis, getting them from the sheriff’s office is like pulling teeth, as the saying goes. After numerous complaints, a few will come our way and then stop until we complain again.

He also did not seem to offer a solution to the issue of overtime, which is significant for the department, citing flex time and officers out for valid reasons as the root cause.

Giardino is charming and has an in-charge ability to lead.

As for VanDeusen, his positive attributes include his down-to-earth, cop’s cop manner. The depth of his responses to our questions impressed all of us. He is honest about himself, admitting it would be a learning curve for him dealing with the jail, but he has experience working with department budgets and officers. His entire career has been in law enforcement.

But his lock ’em up attitude concerning the opioid epidemic had us concerned. We feel the social and cultural factors that lead to drug addiction must also be addressed.

As a school resource office, he has a unique understanding of school safety and we believe he would make this a priority, especially for the more rural schools.

He highlighted training and experience as priorities for the development of officers and that if an officer becomes jaded over time or shows disrespect to the public, more training should be necessary. Giardino did not offer a solution to the issue, citing officers learn how to treat the public in basic training.

VanDeusen expressed an interest in expanding road patrols to areas of the county that rarely see coverage, such as the western portion that has a substation that is not currently used. He also was in favor of “community policing” where officers actually park their cars and walk the streets of the towns and villages in our area getting to know the residents better.

VanDeusen sees the regular use of the ski and boat patrols as part of the overtime issue — putting officers on the lake or on trails on a regular basis leaves fewer officers on the road, and the more visible officers are, the more crime they can deter.

As for the legalization of marijuana, VanDeusen said he stands where the law stands.

Giardino said the reason he ran for sheriff was that the former sheriff asked him, telling him his career experience — seeing the other side of the law enforcement process — would bring a new perspective to the position.

On the other hand, when we asked VanDeusen, he said he was “not here to throw mud” but that some things are happening in the department he doesn’t believe in and he knew the only way to change those issues was to run for sheriff.

VanDeusen also pointed out that when he was chief of police, he was able to keep overtime to a minimum by prioritizing; was the original driving force behind the body cams and that he never asked a fellow officer to do anything he wouldn’t do.

While it was difficult for the editorial board, and our votes were split, the majority favored giving our endorsement to VanDeusen for the primary.

While we feel Sheriff Giardino has not done anything “wrong” in his position, we feel VanDeusen would have a closer relationship with the actual officers and staff, that his lifelong experience as a police officer will serve him well and that his passion for being a police officer will perhaps help move the department in a positive direction.

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