ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County Sheriff Richard Cutting formally announced his candidacy for re-election June 3 at a press conference at the Government Center.
Cutting, who has been with the department for 37 years, ticked off a list of highlights accrued during his nearly four-year tenure as Sheriff, including fiscal responsibility, bringing in a half-million in federal grants, working with the Department of Defense in acquiring military equipment in times of public disaster — including a Humvee — and renting out available space in the county jail to agencies with excess numbers of inmates, bringing in almost $4.7 million in revenue in the process.
The incumbent also highlighted public safety features, including the Mobile Patrol smartphone app that gives users access to booking files and the ability to register for alerts when an inmate is released, as some of his crowning achievements accomplished during his tenure.
A second smartphone app, Offender Watch, is in the final stages of development, he said.
The app will give subscribers the ability to set alerts around geographic parameters. They will be pinged when registered sex offenders move in or out of the boundaries.
Cutting, who joins Essex County Treasurer Michael Diskin on the Republican Party ticket, has been endorsed by the county’s GOP committee and is currently circulating petitions. As of press time, he is running unopposed. Opponents have until July 11 to turn their signatures to the board of elections.
“I have maintained an open door policy to stay in contact with you and look forward to the opportunity to add four more years,” Cutting said.
Cutting’s re-election bid follows a pair of sessions with the board of supervisors in which he found himself on the hot seat over his request for lawmaker approval to apply for a federal COPS grant that would put resource officers back into Essex County schools for the first time in a over a decade.
The Sheriff’s resolution to apply for the grant squeaked by the board June 3 with five weighted votes in a roll call that elicited audible gasps within the chamber after the final tally.
1463 yes, 1458 no.
It was the closest vote in living memory, said several lawmakers and members of the media.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years and have never seen a vote this close,” said Lohr McKinstry, a reporter for the Press-Republican.
The federal program would pay 75 percent of salaries and benefits for four new officers. The county, which last experimented with the program from 1999-2003, would pick up the remaining 25 percent to the tune of $72,000 per year.
For the fourth year, they’d be required to kick in the full amount.
After the previous program expired, then-Sheriff Henry Hommes transferred the recruits over to the department instead of kicking them loose, a decision that has left lawmakers feeling raw.
“While I philosophically agree with the concept, I can’t vote in favor because of the cost,” said Elizabethtown Supervisor Noel Merrihew.
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said the program didn’t work and criticized the addition of four new staffers with a $18,000 county share per year, something he said would burden a county that is already strapped for cash, even after they dumped their nursing home earlier this year.
“Just Google the program,” he said. “The bottom line is that it is just not affordable for the county at this time.”
Studies undertaken to measure the program’s effectiveness indicate the COPS program’s success is contingent on a number of variables and is only as good as the agencies that are implementing it.
Smaller police agencies tended to be more satisfied with the program found a US Justice Department report and thrived under progressive, innovation-minded administrators. Implementation in larger, urban departments tended to be problematic, mainly due to bureaucratic obstacles.
Cutting said the resource officers would not be kept on the county payroll after their time was up. Schools or the board would decide on the next step.
None of the department’s 13 existing deputies can be repurposed for the positions.
“It’s really good for the kids to see a uniformed officer as their friend,” he said. “Just spending time with them, throwing the ball around.”
He called civic response to the last time the program was implemented “tremendous” and said it didn’t take the officers long to identify and curb borderline criminal activity.
Board Chairman Randy Douglas voted in favor of the resolution, but only because a news report on Isla Vista shooter Eliot O. Rodgers swayed his decision.
“If we can prevent another situation like this, I will support it,” he said.
Before the board’s dismissal, Scozzafava asked for a vote recount and was met with withering sarcasm by several of his colleagues.
“God forbid I ask a question,” he said.