The three candidates for Tompkins County sheriff in 2018, retired Undersheriff Derek Osborne, independent journalist Josh Brokaw, and Sheriff Ken Lansing, participated in a forum on WRFI Community Radio and streamed live on Facebook by the Ithaca Voice. Osborne and Lansing are competing against each other in the Democratic primary. That primary’s election is on Thursday, Sep. 13. Brokaw is running as an independent candidate. The general election is on Nov. 6.
WRFI‘s Laura Rosbrow-Telem moderated this candidate forum with questions from the public. The Ithaca Voice‘s Kelsey O’Connor and Jacob Mroczek, as well as WRFI’s Felix Teitelbaum co-produced this forum. This special newscast first aired on WRFI Community Radio News and the Ithaca Voice’s Facebook page at 6 p.m. on Tues., Sep. 11.
Full Transcript Below
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: You’re listening to WRFI 88.1 FM in Ithaca and 91.9 FM in Watkins Glen. This is a special newscast from WRFI Community Radio News. WRFI and The Ithaca Voice are hosting a Tompkins County Sheriff Candidate Forum. Both of us are listener and reader supported, so if you want to support this kind of civic journalism, we recommend that you go ahead to our websites, WRFI and The Ithaca Voice, short little plug, and now on to the show.
I’m your host, Laura Rosbrow-Telem. Welcome to all three candidates running for Tompkins County Sheriff. Derek Osborne right here on my left. Josh Brokaw in the middle and Ken Lansing. Osborne and Lansing are running in the Democratic primary. That primary’s election is on Thursday. Brokaw is running as an independent candidate.
First, I’m just going to give the rules of engagement here. Each of you will give an opening statement that will be three minutes in length. Then I’m going to ask several questions directed at all of you and then I’m going to ask questions for each of you individually. You’ll be allowed one minute to respond to our questions and you will be allowed 30 seconds for rebuttals. At the end, you’re going to each give a closing statement that’s going to last up to two minutes. For any answer, you can see two lights flashing over there. For people watching or listening, they won’t see it but in any case that light is going to flash at 15 seconds before the end of your answer, and when you’re answer is done, it’s just going to continue flashing. So, check it out.
All of these questions are based on questions sent in from the community. Then, very last bit of housekeeping. Remember that this is on public radio, so please don’t swear. And now, without further ado, opening statements. Let’s start from left to right, we’ll start with Derek Osborne.
Derek Osborne: OK. Hello everyone, my name is Derek Osborne. I’m running for Tompkins County Sheriff. Just a little background about myself. I began my career as a police officer for the City of Cortland back in 1995. Transferred to the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office in 2001. Once there I started out as a deputy sheriff. Over the years worked myself up through the ranks of investigator, senior investigator, captain, and lastly undersheriff before retiring in 2015.
I’m proud to say I’m the only member of the sheriff’s office to ever be selected and nominated to attend the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia – highly selective program for the most promising administrators.
Since my retirement, I’ve worked for a company called Fire Tree and a residential program for soon to-be-released federal inmates where I was involved in community integration efforts.
I currently work for a large financial institution locally where I am in charge of physical security as well as business continuity planning, disaster management, and all that good stuff.
When I retired from the sheriff’s office a few years ago the thought of running for sheriff never crossed my mind. But my feelings have since changed. In fact stepping away from law enforcement has made me a better candidate now than I would have been four years ago, in my opinion. The honor that is bestowed upon someone seeking such a position is not one that should be taken lightly, and I strongly feel that the axiom that leadership starts at the top has never been so true as it is today. If I’m elected as your sheriff I will never forget the heavy responsibility that has been entrusted to me. So the question most often ask is why am I running? Well, I’m running as sheriff because I know as sheriff we can do more.
I know the sheriff’s office can do more. If elected your sheriff will never forget the heavy responsibility that has been entrusted to me. I’m running on several platforms. One is fiscal responsibility. I know how the road patrol works and staff works and I have a proven experience in lowering overtime costs and I’m seeking to return overtime levels to the levels they used to be. Community engagement.
I’m really focused on the comments that are community made in the 2017 CGR study. Comments such as following up the county and sheriff’s department is more challenging and inconsistent preventing relationship building. The relationships of participants that they do have with the county and sheriff’s office is because they put effort into building relationships. The outreach did not come from law enforcement. These are comments that I really take to heart and I believe a lot of focus has to be taken to improving in those areas. Alternatives to incarceration.
How am I doing on time? OK. I’m very focused on alternatives to incarceration based on my past experience in that field. And lastly diversity. I feel community trust has to be improved and I think the first way to do that is to bring a more diverse workforce into the sheriff’s office. Thank you.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: OK now Josh Brokaw.
Josh Brokaw: Hello, Tompkins County. So I decided to run for sheriff, well for several reasons.
We’ll say first off it certainly seemed like we should ensure a choice in all of our elections and this seemed the sort of most important at the local level this year.
Secondly, as a journalist for my seat I moved up here to write for the Ithaca Times in January 2015 and have been running Truthsayers.org since October 2016. It seems to me that law enforcement here and perhaps nationwide doesn’t really take transparency too seriously. It doesn’t take information flow very seriously.
As I was telling people as I was talking to over 1,400 people — had to get signatures to get on an independent ballot — people really seemed to respond to the idea that maybe we need to send out less press releases about who got picked up for shoplifting at Target and more about when the SWAT team goes out, why. Why are we doing no-knock warrants at 4 a.m.? Why are we still fighting the drug war like it’s 1986? Why are we using these resources in a way that you know when a heavy artillery goes out — and perhaps the officers need the protection in some situations, perhaps we need to serve some of those warrants at 4 a.m. — but I want explanations and I’m always told well you don’t need that. We’re the experts. We made that decision.
So, it seemed to me that if I’m not going to get answers from the standard tried and true ways of just bugging people and being obnoxious as journalists are supposed to do. Then I guess I had a run. As I’ve been talking to people it’s become clear beyond that sort of initial inspiration that there’s a lot of issues we need to deal with. For example, I’m a book guy. And the Tompkins County Jail I’m told does not have a library. That’s absurd. What when people are sitting in jail that’s time for reflection. That’s time. What do you want them to do stare at the wall?
So it’s just something that came up last night talking with a frequent flyer at the jail who knows the system there, talking with him on the Commons, you know. And you know what’s what’s the nutrition we’re giving our prisoners up there? Why — maybe there’s a reason for it — but why do I always see police idling in cars. You know how much can we cut off gasoline savings every year if we change some policies there and change the culture a little bit. From a broader philosophical view that there’s obviously I mean law enforcement is obviously in crisis, and if it’s going to become part of a new just compassionate society that hopefully we’re all working towards, then I think it needs to – we need to eliminate a lot of the fear between law enforcement and between the public, and I think maybe someone who’s coming from a different place than a career entrenched in law enforcement is the person who could help that process along.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: OK. And now Sheriff Ken Lansing.
Ken Lansing: Good evening. Eight years ago I was approached and asked whether I would consider running for sheriff and come out of retirement after working for 34 years for the Village of Cayuga Heights Police Department. I decided that I would do that. I asked the community if they would have confidence in me as their next sheriff. And we were able to win that election.
I’m seeking a third term. Again some of the staff members asked me if I would consider writing one more time to help us finish the programs and the objectives that we were trying to reach, especially alternatives to incarceration and also our involvement in trying to get the space that we need to continue and even broaden the programs that we give the people at our corrections facility. So, I decided that I would ask for one more term.
The men and women that I work with day to day are very dedicated individuals. They work very hard to keep this community safe and give them the needs that they are desiring from a sheriff’s office. I also believe that I need to work hard to give them what they need to obviously accomplish these goals that they wanted to. To name a few of the initiatives that we’ve been working on and are happy to be part of. We’ve been working on several projects and programs that provide a better facility for the inmate programs and increase the well-being and safety of the inmates and the jail staff.
Additionally, we have been working with mental health to secure additional medical staff, which we have been able to do and are stationed in our facility now. And we also are offering additional drug options to assist in combating our opiate that we have in this United States of America.
Additionally, we have been working with the LEAD program with the City of Ithaca. This is a program that’s already established in Albany, New York, and Seattle, Washington. It is a program that allows us to offer the less offense-type crimes that take place out here by sometimes first offenders to have a chance to do something different then being incarcerated. This obviously would help us prevent frequent fliers and people coming into jail.
We’ve been actively also looking at outreach with our community businesses and places like churches and also all the departments in the county we have proceeded to have active shooter, which gives them the necessary needs hopefully for survival should such a tragedy take place at the place they are working. There are only a few programs that we are doing and we plan on continuing to do with the next term that I plan on-.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Five seconds.
Ken Lansing: In the past couple of years, the department has not only been consistently covering our bottom line budget. And we also have introduced a program where we can replace our equipment like saving money and giving money for that.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: OK thank you very much. So now I’m going to ask a very basic question which is what do you think makes a good sheriff? We can start from left to right. So, Derek Osborne?
Derek Osborne: What makes a good sheriff? Certainly. I think that’s got to be somebody that people trust impeccably. That’s number one. I believe a good sheriff is somebody that people feel like they can approach, have honest conversations. And trust me in this campaign one thing I’ve learned is to have open and honest conversations with a lot of people perhaps people I haven’t had the opportunity to speak to before and hear their concerns and what they feel is lacking in law enforcement today. Now for example I’ve spent a lot of time speaking with people of color. I spoke to people in the LGBTQ community and I’ve heard a lot of bad things. And as a former law enforcement administrator that really hurt. And that’s what’s got to be addressed.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Josh Brokaw.
Josh Brokaw: I agree completely with Derek on trust and approachability, and I think that’s very important. Like I said I was walking to the Commons last night and talking to the guy who’s in the jail and I don’t know that that’s someone who comes up and I talk to him frequently – who’s going to talk to someone who has also arrested him. So I think beyond that those important traits I think just a willingness to try ideas, to put ideas out there, to say this is – could we do this? How do we do this? And to really bring the whole community together that’s and a lot of what I think grassroots local media is about which is what I’ve been attempting to do, scraping together, you know couchsurfing and the occasional donation and to keep doing the media thing. And I think in leadership in county administrations what we should be doing more of – because I hear a lot of well the state won’t let us do us this – How about we figure out how to do it.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: OK, and Ken Lansing?
Ken Lansing: Yes. One thing that I believe in is that you always want to live by the standards that are perceived that are the best that you can. And you always want to remember where you came from as you work your way up through the ranks as I have through my career. You ought to always be open for suggestions and advice don’t always think that you know it all just because you’ve been serving as long as I have been. There’s plenty that you can still learn. And also I believe in participation of the men and women that work with you, not for you. It’s important to have them involved. That’s why we have initiatives like they are involved that are hiring process by having a committee that does that. Also our promotion process is done by committee. It’s important for the men and women to feel and be a part of all the decisions that you can allow them to be.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: OK. Actually, while we’re on the subject of hiring, a couple people from the community brought up hiring and diversity, or I should say the lack of diversity, in the sheriff’s office. What could you do as sheriff to hire deputies that represent the diversity and citizens of Tompkins County. We’ll start with Derek Osborne.
Derek Osborne: Yeah that’s one of my major components of my platform. You know there’s no doubt in the world we live in now. There’s a lot of fear of police. There’s been a lot of bad things happening and a lot of people are downright fearful. The community engagement is simply not there. And like I expressed before a lot of this concern from talking to people simply comes from people of color and people in the LBGTQ community. What better way to restore trust is to bring a more diverse workforce that is more inclusive to people in these segments of society to help build that trust. I don’t have all the answers. I have not lived the life of some of these people and I need their help to do that.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Josh Brokaw?
Josh Brokaw: I’m not sure that purely diversity in hiring is what you’re looking for is what I’ve read is that you know violence from officers you know of color might actually be worse. And that’s a phenomenon that goes back into the 19th century you know Irish police you know working for the English. I think something we definitely should look at in case we don’t get around to hiring again though is we need to consider domestic violence histories. We need to consider any sort of history of violence. There’s been some issues with members of the office with the workforce that have been very publicly, you know, issues. One deputy indicted for rape and we need to really look at what the hiring practices are getting us those folks and how we can change that.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Ken Lansing.
Ken Lansing: Yes. Of course any administrator knows especially here in New York one of the handicaps that we have is the civil service process. It very much handicaps us in the hiring process to accomplish some of the needs we feel we need for our department. So that has become a real issue. Another thing that we did is implement the body cams, just for the reasons that the other two candidates stated. You know people always fear for their safety thinking that somebody is going to do something wrong as a police officer. To them these body cameras obviously now are a deterrent. I would – if someone was even thinking about that and if they do do it it obviously gives us the ability to either prove or disprove that they did something like that.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Ok. Moving on to the next question. In late 2014, the sheriff’s office was involved in a 60-hour standoff that ended with a Danby resident’s death by self-inflicted gunshot. This is now called the Hornbrook Road Incident. To end the standoff, the sheriff at that time Ken Lansing who is right here, authorized the use of an armored vehicle to tear down a wall of the resident’s home. I’m going ask this actually to all the people sitting here. Were you satisfied with how things were handled, and if not what would you have done differently? We’ll start with Derek Osborne.
Derek Osborne: I can’t say I was satisfied by any stretch, and I’ll preface that with saying there was a lot of good people there trying to do the right thing. A lot of good people that are trained in a lot of good areas, a lot of good negotiators, local SWAT members things like that. And it was no doubt in my mind at any time that people involved in this incident did want to get the person out of the home safely with no harm to him and also no harm to people on the teams involved. I do remember when I was initially there the state police SWAT teams showed up and I remember the gentlemen in charge at the time said if this was their incident they would surround the place and they would wait the person out. I think it went well above that and it turned into something that didn’t need to happen.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Josh Brokaw.
Josh Brokaw: So I had not moved here quite yet when that happened. And so I’ve only really read the reports which means I can totally armchair quarterback and so I want to know questions I have about that incident. Why are you serving DWI warrants on Dec. 30 at 8 p.m. when people are on holiday with their family? Is it that urgent to get the man off the road? I know Sheriff that you said you know that you couldn’t live with yourself in an interview with the Voice if you went out and killed someone. But I mean do you need to – Is that the night is that just happens to be the night? Obviously you know there’s a lot of issues of how much force we’re showing up. I mean it’s a single shooter. I mean American violence, it’s always the single shooter. And I don’t understand how you need 30 or 40 people surrounding the house or any situation like that you know to resolve it and we can talk more about this later.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Ok. And Ken Lansing.
Yes. That incident, OK, has been well established by a report. We had two federal agencies come in to the county that we asked to come into the county to critique what we did, see what we could do better and what other changes we might have had. But I guess the things that stand out – he shot at us, he used deadly physical force. The men and women there restrained themselves and never fired back even though they had a right to and the people that we had is — as Mr Osborne said — that we had very good experts that I was getting advice from something else that some people don’t know, I prevented the New York State Police SWAT team going in on Wednesday morning and I know that it would have resulted in a shootout. I’m sure of that.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: If you’re just tuning in you’re listening to WRFI Community Radio News. We’re having a special newscast where we’re doing a sheriff candidates forum. All three candidates who are running for Tompkins County sheriff are here. Derek Osborne, Josh Brokaw and Sheriff Ken Lansing and we’ll get back to it.
This is a related question. But several people mentioned concern about excessive use of force. How would you decide whether or not to use a SWAT team? And we’ll start with Derek Osborne.
Derek Osborne: Using a SWAT team as most people know or may be aware of – the SWAT team in Tompkins County is basically maintained by the Ithaca Police Department. Sure, the sheriff’s office has some take on it and stuff like that but it’s very important to me as sheriff that if the SWAT team is to be utilized outside the City of Ithaca in our jurisdiction of Tompkins County the sheriff has got to be there, make that decision, and determine if it’s suitable to be used or not. Now obviously it would be brought in if there’s any indication that violence could happen that could lead to somebody getting hurt, namely law enforcement. And it’s as simple as that. It’s not really rocket science. It doesn’t have to be used at all times. But there are certainly circumstances where the protections of a SWAT team are important.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Josh Brokaw.
I mean obviously if you heard my opening I certainly question the use of SWAT for no-knock warrants, we’re picking up people for various mid-level to small-time drug crimes. Beyond that, I mean I don’t question necessarily the use of full protective armor. I think the officers should have the opportunity to be safe. Do we need 20 of them on these raids? Do we need this sort of unit really out in the community much at all? You have to remember SWAT started, the first SWAT unit was in Los Angeles in the late ’60s – the first thing they used it for, it was to raid a Black Panthers office. That’s the history of SWAT. It’s obviously not a benign sort of you know happy officer walking around talking to people, it’s a militarized force and the police have become militarized over the last 40 to 50 years and we have to deal with it. So are we going to get rid of it immediately? No. But can we investigate that under my administration? Yeah, absolutely. We can talk about it.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Ok. Sheriff Ken Lansing.
Ken Lansing: Yes. As everybody knows the objective of a good law enforcement is to keep the community safe and the men and women that serve them. Obviously we were fortunate enough to have a very well-trained SWAT team here for such a small area. The men and women that are on that SWAT team are very dedicated to their jobs, they work very hard to accomplish a very professional and well-trained SWAT team. So therefore we are fortunate to have them here. Can they be overused? It’s possible. That is the administration’s responsibility to make the judgment, as Mr. Osborne said, should they or should they not be used. But they have a very good team and good people operating that team and I’m proud that they are here and I am very confident they keep this community safe.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: OK. In 2017, Tompkins County Legislature voted to make the county a sanctuary jurisdiction. Would you have voted for this? We’ll start with Derek Osborne.
Derek Osborne: Well more importantly if I would have voted for it or not. Let me be clear. We have components in our government that are tasked with immigration issues and things of that nature. To me, I’m focused on our county sheriff as focusing on the issues that impact Tompkins County. I do not feel immigration is one of them. We have a group that can do that. The sheriff’s office should not be involved in that and will not under my leadership. I want to build a community of trust in inclusiveness where people that perhaps are immigrants here locally do not have to fear calling the police for help. There’s a time and place for everything. I don’t think it’s going to be — I know it’s not going to be a focus of my administration.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Josh Brokaw.
Josh Brokaw: Right. So yeah the sanctuary county legislation – sure, I would have voted for it. The question is implementation – how well are we doing that? I know the sheriff was asked at a public safety meeting a few months ago, according to minutes whether we were distributing when ICE – Immigration and Customs Enforcement – does have to serve a warrant. I’m not sure of the exact terminology but they do have to notify local law enforcement when they’re coming into town. I know the sheriff was asked by a legislature if we are telling people when that request is coming I would certainly be in favor of distributing any request of ICE coming in to town. Also we need to look at are we sharing any information with ICE? It’s really tough to get out of that. I we’ve said oh we’re not going to share it. But I mean the FBI is plugged into basically — as I understand it and I would love to be corrected if I’m wrong — any sort of national law enforcement database which also includes ICE. So how how do we block that off? I don’t know but it’s something we can look into.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Sheriff Ken Lansing.
Ken Lansing: Yes in 2017 I was approached by several legislators and people from the City of Ithaca, one of them being Cynthia Brock. We worked together on a policy and I made a statement in a letter, which she just recently distributed in an email and congratulated me on the stance that I have taken with our department when it comes to immigration. And the bottom line is that we have not been involved with ICE. When they don’t come with the proper paperwork, we do not do anything other than stand back and let them do what they have to do for their department.
Josh Brokaw: May respond to that?
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Yeah, you can have a rebuttal for 30 seconds.
Josh Brokaw: So, sheriff, what though would you be in favor when ICE does — if I’m incorrect tell me — but does ICE need to inform the sheriff’s office or other local, you know IPD whatever jurisdiction they’re going to be in, do they need to inform beforehand if they’re coming into the county.
Ken Lansing: To the best of my knowledge they do. But I don’t know if they’ve been here obviously and didn’t notify us because obviously weren’t aware of that. But the best I know they have notified IPD and they have also given us a call that they’ve come into town.
Josh Brokaw: So in a future situation would you be willing to distribute that information beforehand?
Ken Lansing: Trust me, when they give it to us it’s at the last minute or the last seconds. They just tell us when they ready to execute their warrant. So from my experience.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: OK moving on. In the words of a community member, “How will you create a department able to serve the gay, transgender, queer community without the implicit biases now displayed by the current sheriff and undersheriff? We’ll start with Derek Osborne.
Derek Osborne: Well I’ve talked about this a couple times during this interview already. As a former law enforcement professional to hear these type of concerns coming from certain segments of the community is very sad to me. I don’t under my leadership the sheriff of Tompkins County to have anybody feel that way. And as I mentioned I think one of the biggest ways to try to curb that is not only with increasing the community engagement between law enforcement or the sheriff’s office and the public because that’s severely lacking right now — but to establish a sheriff’s office where that type of behavior or thought process is not tolerated, and that can be done and started on by bringing in a more diverse workplace for sure.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Josh Brokaw.
Josh Brokaw: I actually published an interview today that I did with Derek in late June on TruthSayers and he was talking about life experience making him more empathetic and tolerant. And I think it’s true that no four-hour, eight- 12-hour two-day diversity training implicit bias training is really going to do much of anything. You need to hire people who have an open and tolerant perspective maybe not everyone has to be you know a hugger on law enforcement, but you need to have people maybe are necessarily excited about having a badge and a gun. Folks who are there to you know keep it sort of peaceful tolerance and who understand their role is not just shooting after bad guys or chasing the bad guys and that sort of thing we’ve romanticized in our media for so long but really just keeping the peace. And I think that’ll apply to you know whether it’s concerns of people of color – concerns in the queer community, wherever. I mean I think that’s how we have to do it.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: And Ken Lansing.
Ken Lansing: Sure. We have made sure that everyone in the Department of Corrections and roadside have been trained in the LGBTQ trainings. That was very important and that’s why we brought it to our office to make the people understand and and deal with the issues that the fearful of police not understanding and doing things that are wrong. We also are continuing with the LGBT community through Captain Bunce of the jail going to their meetings and discussing the many concerns, the many objectives and ideas that they would like to see implemented in our corrections facility. So we have done that. And for someone to say that I am biased. There’s people out that are a friend of mine are members of that community would surely disagree with that.
Josh Brokaw: Quick response when you say that-.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Wait, wait, rebuttal. 30 seconds.
Josh Brokaw: When you say their meetings what meetings are those sheriff?
Ken Lansing: There’s a meeting that’s every month from the LGBT committee that Captain Bunce goes to and they discuss the various concerns they have possibly in jail and what to do with transgenders.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: And just to be clear with rebuttals. It’s not so much a rephrasing of a question, but if you have a specific response I think that’s what the nature of a rebuttal is.
Josh Brokaw: I respond in questions.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Well, in any case that’s my job. So in case you’re just tuning in and listening to the WRFI 88.1 FM in Ithaca and 91.9 FM in Watkins Glen. This is a special newscast from WRFI Community Radio News. WRFI and The Ithaca Voice are hosting a Tompkins County sheriff candidate forum. Both of us our listener and reader supported so if you support this kind of civic journalism, go ahead to the websites of the WRFI and The Ithaca Voice. I’m your host Laura Rosbrow-Telem. And here are all three candidates for Tompkins County sheriff: Derek Osborne to my left, Josh Brokaw in the middle, and Sheriff Ken Lansing. Osborne and Lansing are running in the Democratic primary. That primary’s election is on Thursday. Brokaw is running as an independent candidate. So now we’re getting into the part of the hour.
I’m going to ask individual questions and I’m actually going to start with Josh Josh Brokaw, right here. You have no experience in law enforcement or with the sheriff’s office. While this is not a requirement to be a sheriff in New York state how do you consider yourself qualified to be the sheriff of Tompkins County?
Josh Brokaw: Right. Yeah I heard that quite a few times talking to people collecting signatures. And so what I would say is from the journalists profession what I have is I’ve sat through a lot of the same meetings that these gentlemen have sat through. I’ve read a lot of the same documents. Not all of them, which is part of why I’m running.
And so I think as far as dealing with bureaucracy, dealing with the state, you know, kind of interpreting and understanding, being able honestly I think I’ve–I’ve accepted it is a skill to sit on your butt through some of these meetings for two or three hours and listen to people discuss things. You know I’ve got those skills. The meeting room skills. And, you know, as a journalist I’m open and I you know do investigations. I know how to ask questions, and …
That’s yeah it’s a short of it. There’s more in interviews in both the Tompkins Weekly and the Ithaca Voice on that subject, so.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: And while we’re talking about journalism, several people from the community asked about the conflicts of interest inherent in you running for this offer us while being a journalist including that this campaign could act as a press opportunity. If you are elected would you continue being a journalist?
Josh Brokaw: I think I’m just a journalist. I’m stuck with that one. But don’t think that means it’s the only thing you have to do with your whole career. With your whole life. You know it’s a way of looking at things, it’s a way, it’s asking questions. It’s–it’s really getting to continue being an adolescent in the sense that you just get to keep going: Why, why, why, why? And honestly the some of the administrators and other leaders that I have respected most in my career are the people who don’t say well this is good enough. They keep saying: how do we do better? Let’s do it another way. And that’s the sort of ethos I think that journalism reporting brings to–to this–to this office. And to really any sort of leadership position.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: You didn’t answer my question, would you stop being a journalist if you’re elected to this office?
Josh Brokaw: Would I stop being one? I don’t really know how to answer that. I mean I’m you know I don’t know what I would write for who I would write for what I would write. But my–my perception would not just go away. You know that dedication transparency is going to be there.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: So to be clear, you’re going to stop writing for publication if you were to be elected to this office?
Josh Brokaw: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t, honestly, if I may just take 30 seconds on this… The objective journalism thing, from my perspective, is a problem. I know a lot of people loved the New York Times but it does kind of cover up a lot of issues that sort of viewed from nowhere. I don’t think that we can afford to be neutral in these times and that sort of myth that there’s just a reporter there that doesn’t have a perspective it’s always kind of silly of me. So I don’t quite pick up on the conflicts of interest as much. I think that people who are maybe asking that question do and I would love if you want to talk to me about two hours we can talk about it. You know I’m easy to find.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Well I guess a last comment on that. There could be an obvious conflict of interest they could use a public office as press for.
Josh Brokaw: Well, I mean the sheriff’s office is already you know making much of what you see in the press through their press releases because much of what you see on any of your local outlets as far as, you know, fires, as far as any sort of–any sort of drug busts, any sort of arrest most of the time those stories are coming pretty much directly and information from the sheriff’s office or from the IPD or whoever else. So it’s not really, I mean that they have a press person, essentially, who’s basically making some of the stories you see in the media.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Yeah but they don’t work for independent news publication. There’s a separation. So in any case I’m going to move on to the next question. My next questions are for actually my next question I should say is for Derek Osborne. Derek, you wrote a nine page letter when you were tired from being under sheriff. In it, you refuted Lansing’s account of the Hornbrook Road incident. So I want to ask you why did you leave and why did you not try to change things from within?
Derek Osborne: As far as changing things from within. Well, that’s very difficult when you’re not the top person in a department. If you’re just an employee that’s — I don’t want to say under the coattails of the administrator. That’s a very difficult thing to do. However, I do feel like I did try to make a lot of positive changes in my role as Undersheriff and in that nine page letter…Yeah I was upset when I wrote that. You know nobody likes to be retired from an agency and then open the paper and feel that you were subjected to a certain level of blame when you don’t feel that was justified or even true or corrupt. That was very disheartening for me. And as a human being, not a law enforcement person, or a past administrator, you know I read the first one and I kind of let it go. And I took the attitude will I’m not there anymore. So who cares? People are going to say things at times that I don’t agree with. As time went on, I saw one two more articles referencing the same thing. You know and then you start bringing your family into it, and you have people asking you: why are you sitting back and not defending your name? My father being one. And that’s when I wrote the letter. And I stand by it.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: At the time of the letter you said that you weren’t running for public office.
Derek Osborne: Yeah.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: So that’s changed.
Derek Osborne: It has changed.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Can you comment on that?
Derek Osborne: Yeah. Absolutely. I had no interest in running for sheriff. And you know in a lot of people think I’m nuts for doing it now, I have a very good job, a second career, I’m very happy in my life. Trust me, my fiance had quite a hard time with me even considering this — she likes me being home Monday through Friday and on weekends. That’s understandable and being sheriff that is not what happens. So, yeah, things changed. You know when I read the article in the newspaper about, you know, all of what we call the secret files and all that and things like that. Yeah I was concerned. And I felt like I needed to stand up and do something. Nobody else was running at the time. I don’t think Josh had come into the picture, and I felt it was the right thing to do.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Okay. I’m going to move on to Ken Lansing. Your deputies have been convicted of domestic violence and sexual abuse of an inmate. And another was charged with rape. How did you deal with these allegations and how would you deal with this in the future?
Ken Lansing: Well how we dealt with it is obviously — The proper agencies were contacted and did the investigations, and made the arrest on all three of those incidents that you bring to our attention. When we have things such as that brought to our attention, we obviously are not going to investigate our own, nor should we, on those type of serious incidents. And that’s why they are turned over to other agencies. And the district attorney, obviously, gets called and they make decisions also with whatever the situation happens to be. As far as what I would see you do, you obviously do your best and background checks when you hire, you do your best when you interview these people, and try to figure-out, you know, if they’re good candidates to be people that work for the sheriff’s office.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: At least one of them was kept paid for quite awhile. Would you choose to do that differently?
Ken Lansing: We have no option when it comes to that. There are people who are paid. They’re not guilty because they are charged. They have to be found guilty. Once they are found guilty, then they can be dismissed and not paid any longer. They have unions, they have contract, and legal rights and we have to abide by those. And I understand that the public sometimes has a hard time accepting that. But, there are legal rights for everybody until you are proven guilty. You can’t punish someone for something and they haven’t been proven guilty of.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: In case you’re just tuning in, you’re listening to WRFI Community Radio News. WRFI and the Ithaca Voice are hosting a Tompkins County sheriff candidates forum. So we’re speaking with all three candidates for Tompkins County sheriff. That’s Derek Osborne, Josh Brokaw, and Sheriff Ken Lansing.
Now I’m going to go back to an individual question, this time, for Derek Osborne. You’re quoted as being tired of personnel scandals, yet, on your Instagram, you are next to an awesome new election sign made by former Deputy Jeremy Vann. Jeremy Vann was fired and he was sentenced for domestic violence related crimes. Would you re-hire Vann?
Derek Osborne: No, I wouldn’t be able to rehire Vann simply because of the fact that the charges he was convicted of bars him from employment. Now, I will say, I do have a soft heart for people, and I don’t condone anything that happened between him and the person he was involved in at the time. And, in fact, I don’t agree with it. And if you talk to Jeremy Vann today, he doesn’t either. But I also take into account that no matter how hard, or, bad of a thing somebody may do, I try to find value in that person. And he did have value. He did offer to help make some signs and I took him up on that and I stand by that. I don’t think that’s wrong. Same way when you worked in the jail, we have inmates that are currently in the jail that I’ve had pleasant conversations with. They have life skills and they have a lot of good qualities about them. But people fall into traps where they get in trouble. And I don’t think that should destroy the person for the rest of their lives.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: What do you mean by not agree with? You said earlier that you and Vann didn’t agree with something.
Derek Osborne: I’m not sure what you’re referencing.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: I think perhaps with the allegations that were made against him?
Derek Osborne: That I didn’t… I don’t know where that’s coming from. I’m sorry.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: I’m just repeating what you said but that’s OK. That’s OK.
OK, so I’m going to move on to Ken Lansing. In a 2015 interview published in The Ithaca Voice, you stated that you were keeping a folder on powerful people in the county who were against you, to embarrass them. Did this folder exist?
Ken Lansing: I have a folder. Most any administrators are going to have files and keep files. Okay? I don’t recall and obviously it was taped against my wishes but, only, it was supposed to be taped for his notes and that’s exactly what I tell written reporters and media and I know I told him that, but, anyway, it is out there. It has been out there for three and a half years. But any good administrator keeps a folder. It’s not a secret file. Like I’ve heard people say here recently. And it’s a file that the county administrator time Joe Mareane and the county attorney came to visit me about that. I answered their questions. I showed them the folder. The folder is about that thick. OK. And what it is, is e-mails, letters and things that people have sent me, with either concerns or whatever and I have kept them. That’s the size of my file and that’s pretty much what’s in it.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Do you think that this is ethical for a county sheriff to have this kind of folder?
Ken Lansing: Any administrator, okay, be it Sheriff, be it someone of the business, or somebody and police work, chiefs of police. They all have files and stuff and some are quite large. Mine is nothing. It was something that I wanted to be able to turn back to with the e-mail copies or somebody’s letter that they gave me with their concern and I could go back to that. Not to prove that they had said something to me wrong. They have a right to question me and tell me what they believe that I might have done better for them. Probably a good reminder. And I really have no problem, not that it’s really anybody. If somebody really wants to see it, I will be glad to show it to them. And I told the county administrator that it wasn’t necessary. It’s a simple file that anybody would keep. And it surely was not secretive.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: OK, Derek Osborne is asking for a rebuttal.
Derek Osborne: Yeah, I could say that’s certainly not a file anybody would keep in that position. I certainly would. Now I understand Ken’s explaining these files to mean something different than what it certainly was portrayed is in that interview. If I remember correctly, and I don’t have the source in front of me. These were files that he claimed he stored to protect himself against people he considered as enemies. I do not think and–and I strongly believe that is against encouraging community engagement with the sheriff’s office, and making people feel better about what’s going on at the sheriff’s office. I think it does the exact opposite.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: So to be clear, Derek, you’re saying that you think it makes people trust the office of the sheriff less having this kind of folder?
Derek Osborne: Well how can how can a sheriff’s office tackle the community engagement aspect that the community is asking for and wanting to be more involved in this sheriff’s office, when at the same time, they’re fearful that their secret files on them? Now, that makes people paranoid. That’s the way it is. And these weren’t my words, Ken, these were yours in the interview. It’s not up to me to defend them.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Ken would like to define you like to rebut that?
Ken Lansing: The only thing I can say, as Derek said earlier about himself, and Jeremy Vann. I’m a human being and I was approached with secret files that day, not secret files, files that should not ever been released to the reporter. And he actually had copies of things that he shouldn’t had copies of. So I got upset because I am a human being. Okay? And I don’t go for that kind of sneakiness or whatever you might want to call it. That was pretty upsetting to me. And I care about the people that I work with and live with. I’m a human being.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: OK. Now, I’m going to ask actually a general question of the three of you. In your first 90 days in office: What two things would you want to accomplish? We’ll start with Derek Osborne.
Derek Osborne: How many things? Two?
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Yeah. Two.
Derek Osborne: Well yeah well I tell you what my first two things would be. I want to raise the bar of professionalism in the sheriff’s office. I think that’s needed. And I don’t say that to cast–to make it appear that we have bad people working in the sheriff’s office because we certainly don’t, we have a lot of outstanding men and women that want to do the job and they contact me every day, either by phone or text, and they would like to see me win because they want a certain level of professionalism restored to the sheriff’s office, in their opinion, they’re not currently seeing. That’s number one. And I think that also helps the community too. I have to… I think I’m out of time, here, so I apologize, I did get one out.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Okay. Let’s stick to one. Let’s get to one for each candidate. Josh Brokaw.
Josh Brokaw: But I had three. So, I think the thing that I would want to do most, beyond just catching up with the office, going through all the files, whoever they might be, and all of that, what I would really want to do is take a walk with… 90 days is enough time to walk with 80 or 90 people in the department, and, out of uniform both just go walk down State Street, down MLK, walk on the west and go visit the jungle, go talk to people who were standing out behind you know the Tops up in the mall, or wherever, go, go out to the trailer parks and just go talk to people you know without the law. We’re the police we’re here to fix a thing. Just go get to know people with, you know, members of the department and give them that opportunity to have that sort of freedom outside of the uniform.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: OK. Sheriff Ken Lansing.
Ken Lansing: Well, obviously, what I would want to do is, obviously, continue to work with the things that we’ve been trying to do with the corrections facility to be out provided programs and more programs for the inmates. So we don’t skip a heartbeat. With me staying there for the next 90 days it’s just business as normal and continue to strengthen these programs and to build other programs and confidence with the men and women who work there and the community that we are the sheriff’s office that they need.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: In case you’re just tuning-in, you’re listening to WRFI Community Radio News. We are hosting a special Tompkins County sheriff candidates forum with the Ithaca Voice. All three candidates are here. Derek Osborne, Josh Brokaw and Ken Lansing.
So, this is the point where I’m actually going to move on to closing statements. So, like the rest the night, I think I’ll start with Derek Osborne.
Derek Osborne: I’m always first.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Well I just wanted to kind of…
Derek Osborne: That’s fine. I can tell you like I mentioned before quite a few years went by when I had no intention of running for Tompkins County sheriff. I think change needs to be made and I intend on doing that. I think and I feel from talking to people that the community engagement between the sheriff’s office and the people in our community is simply not there. That’s got to drastically be improved. I have a lot of ideas to do that we don’t have time tonight for me to get into. Secondly, diversity is a big thing for me. I’ve gone on and on about it. One step in improving that trust that a lot of people feel is not there is to incorporate a more diverse workforce that better represents the people in our community. I’m very excited. I can tell people if you know — and I hope they hear in my voice my desire to do what I’m doing. It’s not easy for somebody — I’m sure all three of us can attest to this — to stick your neck out to run for an office such as this, but it’s very important. I’m also proud to say I’ve been endorsed by Martha Robertson, the chair of the Tompkins County Legislature; legislator Deborah Dawson; past Public Safety Committee Chair Peter Stein; past Town of Ithaca Town Supervisor Cathy Valentino; and also the Tompkins County Progressives. I’m very proud of that. I believe all of these individuals and groups have seen the positive changes that they feel can happen under my candidacy and I’m looking forward to it. I’m energized. I’m excited, and I know there’s a lot of work to be done and I’m going to go into it 120 percent. Thank you.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Josh Brokaw.
Josh Brokaw: So, there’s a lot I could say here, of course. I have a lot of questions yet and I’ll be asking more of those questions as we go along until Nov. 6, but this is more I feel like a housekeeping time. And so follow my reporting on TruthSayers.org.
There’s a Facebook group for Josh Brokaw for Tompkins County Sheriff. I could use paint for signs and plywood and peanut butter and pretzels and all sorts of other fun stuff. I’m on the record saying that I endorse candidates who throw a good party because I think to really get people engaged you need to get beyond this the usual way we do politics, so we’ll be doing, throwing some parties. But yeah I mean looking big picture I want to ask a lot of questions and really take a look at you know what do we do with law enforcement? What do we do with the jail? How do we make it an institution? Institutions that are truly about keeping the peace and keeping you know those people who might do harm to themselves or others in someplace safe and otherwise what are we doing to make this a better world? You can get wrapped up and pages and pages and notes here.
So that’s fine. I’m OK with being a little sloppy and being open. So you know my door’s open, I’m easy to find. Contact me in any way you know how, and I’d love to hear the experiences of people who’ve been in the jail, who’ve dealt with law enforcement here. Part of this campaign is truly to make a platform for other people’s voices so we can really have a broad and deep conversation about where we’re at and where we need to go.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: And finally Sheriff Ken Lansing.
Ken Lansing: Thank you. If the community members go to the polls on the 13th and also in the general election on Nov. 6, I would like them to feel confident in their decision on who they elect to serve and protect them. My hope is that this forum provided some clarification and insight in making that decision. I also want to thank The Ithaca Voice and WRFI Community Radio for inviting us to do this tonight and I think it was a good forum to let the people be informed. And as I mentioned in my introduction the next term is about seeing the community and commitments that we have with our team and our commitment to the community. And I’ve been proud to be our sheriff and would like the opportunity to serve for another four years to see the things that we’ve done carry through. And thank you for your time and your consideration. I appreciate it. Thank you.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: So we have a few minutes left, so I’m actually going to give each of you the opportunity to ask one question of one other candidate.
Josh Brokaw: While we’re figuring that out, you need to register to vote register to vote by Oct. 6 to vote in the general. That’s the deadline because New York State election law is a mess. Let’s change that too.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: OK so while they’re thinking about that I’m going to do a quick little promo. You’re listening to WRFI 88.1 FM in Ithaca, 91.9 FM in Watkins Glen. You are listening to a special newscast from WRFI Community Radio News. WRFI and The Ithaca Voice are hosting a Tompkins County sheriff candidates forum and we’re wrapping that up in just these last few minutes so if any of you have one question for a candidate in this room? Josh Brokaw.
Josh Brokaw: Maybe both could answer this although I’d be happy to take a question, but what do you see the jail looking like, how many people and what sort of facilities should we have there in 10 years?
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: OK, Derek.
Derek Osborne: There’s no denying the jail we have currently functionally does not work for a variety of reasons. The mechanicals there, everything the way the building was designed is just horrendous. When I used to go over there during the day when I was working at the sheriff’s office it was depressing for me to walk in there and I knew I could walk back out any second. So it’s very hard for not only the inmates to be housed in there but it’s also horrible working conditions for our corrections officers. They have a very hard job to do in that facility. I am not a proponent of building a bigger jail, but I would also like to see a jail that is designed better that will allow programs without increasing inmates and hopefully decrease the number of inmates we have incarcerated and provide programs that they desperately need.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: And Ken Lansing you can answer this and then I think because this question to the both of you. Either one of you can ask a question have Josh Brokaw and I think there’ll be the fairest way to end this this hour.
Ken Lansing: I really have no questions to ask Josh, but Derek’s right the physical plant there is in need of a lot of things, but I think the question was — what do we see the future of what the jail look like. Well hopefully obviously one a is safe for the inmates and also for the people who work there. But I don’t see it growing any larger than it is. This community has done one heck of a job with alternatives incarceration and are continuing to do that. Our numbers are at astronomical lows we’ve never seen in this county before right now. High 50s, low 60s and board outs are very very few. So that’s what I see because this community really is in the right direction. And I’ve had other sheriffs say that to me, that they understand that we are doing the right thing here in Tompkins County and I’m proud of that.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: So I hate to say so we actually. Oh no. We can keep going. So one more question. Anyone have a question for Josh Brokaw?
Ken Lansing: I guess I’ll ask you one, Josh.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: Yeah, go ahead.
Ken Lansing: All right. My question is since you have no law enforcement experience, and you admitted that and kudos to you — What are you going to do if you become sheriff to get yourself up to speed on what the sheriff’s department does and get yourself accustomed to the things you need to know?
Josh Brokaw: I’m excited to attend law enforcement trainings because that’s a black box to me and I’m very curious about what our law enforcement is being trained who’s training them and maybe to answer the people concerned about journalism. I think if I’m going to be a journalist and report on what I’m doing as sheriff that would be one area I would be happy to shed some light on what’s happening there.
Laura Rosbrow-Telem: So for all the listeners out there and all the people watching over the newscast from The Ithaca Voice, you’re just listening to WRFI 88.1 FM in Ithaca, 91.9 FM in Watkins Glen. This has been a special newscast from WRFI Community Radio News. WRFI and The Ithaca Voice just hosted a Tompkins County sheriff candidates forum. I have been your host, Laura Rosbrow-Telem. Thank you so much to all three candidates running for Tompkins County sheriff: Derek Osborne, Josh Brokaw and Sheriff Ken Lansing. Osborne and Lansing are running in the Democratic primary. That primary’s election is on Thursday. Brokaw is running as an independent candidate and just a last little plug. Both of us our listener and reader supported.
So if you want to support this kind of civic journalism please go ahead to the websites of WRFI and The Ithaca Voice.
Polls are open for the New York State primary today from noon to 9 p.m. Here’s what you can expect to see on the ballot, along with information about how to vote in Tompkins County. #twithaca#Election2018