JAMESTOWN – Chautauqua County Sheriff (D) Joe Gerace and challenger Jim Quattrone (R) agreed and disgreed on several issues at the League of Women Voters’ debate Tuesday evening at Jamestown Community College.
Both candidates were asked about their thoughts on having two drug task forces in Chautauqua County, the Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force and the Jamestown Metro Drug Task Force.
Quattrone said he didn’t understand the reasoning behind having two drug task forces instead of one.
“We have two drug task forces, and I think that’s been going on since 2010,” Quattrone said. “I, frankly, don’t know why we have that. When we had one task force, we had more successes.”
Gerace said it was the City of Jamestown’s decision to split the task forces into two.
“The reason there are two task forces is because the Jamestown Police Department decided to retract from the Task Force,” Gerace stated. “The reason we have two today is not because I want to. I’ve met with the Chief, I’ve met with the Mayor, and they chose to do their own thing.”
“We wanna be one task force. When I became Sheriff, every police force had its own record system. Today, we are all on one.”
Gerace started his career with the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office as a seasonal Navigation Deputy. He was appointed a full-time Deputy Sheriff in 1979 and assigned as the first full-time Crime Scene Investigator for the Department. He was promoted to Technical Sergeant in 1989 where he supervised the Crime Scene Division.
Gerace earned an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice from Jamestown Community College, a Bachelor’s Degree in Police Science from Mercyhurst College, and a Masters Degree in Administration from Alfred University. He is a graduate of the National Sheriffs’ Institute where he was elected President of his class.
Quattrone has 30 years in Law Enforcement, including 15 years in a supervisory capacity. He has also volunteered in various agencies, working with Mental Health and addiction issues. He also has a Masters in administration from Mercyhurst in an FBI training capacity.
Quattrone says the most urgent problem in the Sheriff’s department involves the deputies’ ability to handle those addicted to drugs.
“Not just the addiction, but the crime that comes with it and the issues that come with it and services needed,” Gerace said. “When we work together, that’s when we can see some success.”
“We need to change the 50-year war on drugs by doing something different. It’s important that we work togehter with other agencies, not just other law enforcement agencies.”
Quattrone detailed the Angel Program, which prepares officers to deal with addictions.
“If somebody is ready for help, we can’t say, ‘Come back tomorrow when the clinics are open,'” Quattrone said. He reiterated the importance of combining both task forces.
Gerace said the two biggest issues he sees involve staffing and drugs. Gerace said that 20 of his deputies are EMT’s full time, and nine are part time, including himself.
“When you look at the ones in the Chautauqua County Jail, most of them are in there on charges related to drugs or crimes related to drugs.”
The incumbent said that his position can’t fight the drug epidemic alone.
“The Sheriff can’t fight the drug problem by themselves, its impossible,” Gerace said. “We work with mental health, we work with the health department to provide services to the Chautauqua County Jail.
“It isn’t business as usual. It can’t be.”
Gerace said that there’s several things he believes still needs to be accomplished, such as creating an addiction unit in the jail. He also said that the county is ready for the next generation 911, but the state is not.
When asked about mandatory regulations, Gerace pointed to unfunded mandates from the state.
“The mandates come from the state,” Gerace said. “They give us zero in return, but mandate everything. When people call or get sick, we have to replace them. We can’t leave a housing unit unattended. We need to hire more employees.”
Quattrone said he sees issues with low employee moral in the jail.
“We have to start looking at our employees and treating them with the respect they deserve. It’s a stressful job in the jail,” Quattrone said. “We have trouble recruiting quality candidates. We have high turnover in the jail.”
Gerace said that the high turnover primarily involves part timers seeking full time position. He, however, said that there isn’t a high turnover rate among full timers.
Gerace said only 30 people took the last civil service exam.
Quattrone said there are training issues in terms of supervision women in the jail.
“It definitely is a training issue. One of the largest growing populations of those who are incarcerated are ladies and a large part of it is the drug epidemic,” Quattrone said.
Gerace said the drug problem is a big part of the issue, and the grant ran out for the reentry program.
Quattrone said a followup is necessary, and that the reentry programs are grant funded. He added that the programs need to continue.
“We have to have followups. We have to make sure we have quality and qualified people who are teaching those programs. We need to have programs that are helping our inmates stay out of jail.”
Gerace said that there are certificate programs through BOCES
Quattrone said County Execuive George Borrello is working on cooperation.
“We have to be willing to step to the table even if we don’t agree on things.”
Gerace said that JPD previously asked the county to consolidate.
“The problem we face is most 911 calls come on cell phones. Facebook and Uber do a better job of locating cell phones than 911,” Gerace said. “Response times are the same whether dispatched by local or Sheriff.”
Gerace urged everyone to sign up for Smart 911.
Smart 911 – urge everyone to sign up.
Quattrone believes the Smart 911 program is good, but people need to be more aware of its existence and how to use it.
Both candidates were asked about the issues with bail.
“There’s no question that bail is an issue, there’s been a lot of discussion about that nationally,” Gerace said. “The poor are punished because they have no means.”
Quattrone also said that bail is a problem and that it’s sometimes used as a punishment when it shouldn’t be.
The challenger, when asked if he agreed with the legalization of recreational marijuana, said he is against it.
“I’m opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana,” Quattrone said. “I personally feel the studies that are out there and have been done for New York State to legalize it are flawed. They’re not taking enough time and looking at the results in other states.”
Gerace also disagrees.
“There’s no one in jail for simple possession of marijuana, and here hasn’t been for several years,” Gerace said. “Colorado’s crime rate has jumped. There’s been higher instances of robbery, the black market still exists.”
Both candidates were asked about their thoughts on concealed carry and the Second Amendment.
“I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” Quattrone said. “With every right, we have a responsibility. I encourage people, if you’re going to carry a weapon, you’re going to practice. The SAFE Act was hastily passed, and if we were enforcing it, it’d be violating the Second Amendment.”
Gerace said that he’s also in support of the Second Amendment as a handgun enthusiast.
“I’ve met with the judge, and permits should be unrestricted. Everybody who applies for a permit has to complete a class, which now includes shooting. There’s now eight weeks or less turnaround time.”
Watch the full debate on our Facebook page.