September 18-24 has officially been proclaimed Sheriff’s Week in Ulster County by the county legislature, honoring the everyday services provided by the Sheriff’s office to local citizens.
The proclamation was observed during a meeting of the legislature held September 20, with Undersheriff Eric Benjamin and other members of the Sheriff’s Department — including their newest member, Cody, a therapy dog — in attendance.
Benjamin said that the first sheriff was installed in the area in 1661, and there has been a Sheriff’s Office ever since.
“That was 22 years before Ulster County was founded,” Benjamin said. “And we’ve had successors since that time to present.”
Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa was unable to attend the presentation, which saw the county join with other communities across New York State in honoring law enforcement.
“Since becoming chair of the Law Enforcement and Public Safety Committee earlier this year, I’ve been incredibly impressed by our Sheriff’s Office,” said Deputy Majority Leader Abe Uchitelle (D-City of Kingston). “Not just the leadership in the office, but also the members at every level…I’d like to think that the level of County Sheriff is kind of the glue that holds together all of the different agencies in the county. We are a very diverse county in terms of the geography, in terms of the terrain, in terms of the density, in terms of the demographics. And the Sheriff’s Office is able to provide safety and security for all of those different levels.”
Gina Hansut (R-Towns of Lloyd and Marlborough) read the proclamation, which identified a deep connection between the Sheriff’s Office and the community at large.
“Whereas the Office of Sheriff has evolved into a modern professional full service law enforcement agency, manned by fully trained police officers using state-of-the-art technology, and applying the latest and most advanced theories and practices in the criminal justice field,” Hansut said. “And whereas the Office of Sheriff is unique in the community and the duties of the office go far beyond the duties of the sheriff as an officer of the court and conservator of the peace within the county, and extend into many facets of public safety, including maintaining professional standards, providing security, and our county buildings and courts operating the county jail, serving and executing the civil process for our court system, dispatching emergency services, and providing a countywide drug task force emergency response team in water rescue team, and an opioid response team to assist the addicted and their families.”
Benjamin cited numerous figures to demonstrate the relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and Ulster County, noting that they handle roughly 35,000 calls per year.
“That’s quite a bit for our agency,” he said. “With that, we probably travel about 450,000 miles patrolled per year; Ulster County’s a fairly large rural county of almost 1200 square miles.”
Benjamin added that his department was proud of how it handled the COVID-19 pandemic from the beginning because they were prepared.
“The Sheriff’s Office was the only law enforcement agency in this county, and probably one of a very, very few that actually practiced for a pandemic, if you can believe that,” he said. “We worked with the Health Department. We had distribution sites set up. We had vaccine sites set up, all in practice for a pandemic. One of the amazing things also with the sheriff’s office is we had the personal protective equipment at the office. When this hit, nobody had masks, gowns, gloves.”
Benjamin said the Ulster County Sheriff’s office gave out around 38,000 N95 masks, 447,000 surgical masks, 3,300 gloves, 38,000 gowns, 13,000 face shields, 2,300 gallons of hand sanitizer, and administered 5,800 COVID tests, along with securing COVID testing sites.
“We were ready,” Benjamin said. “And as scary as that was, I’m just proud of the men and women, how they responded. And we were prepared…as best we could.”
Benjamin also discussed how technology is helping local law enforcement through ORACLE (Opioid Response as County Law Enforcement) a program that uses data to help streamline how the Sheriff’s Department operates. He credited the relationship between the Ulster County Legislature and Sheriff’s Department for making it happen.
“ORACLE’s been one of the most innovative projects that we’ve taken on, and it’s just been declared one of the country’s most innovative rural justice programs,” Benjamin said. “It’s now nationwide. It was actually a dream of Sheriff Juan Figueroa, and when he took office, we sat down, we worked with a lot of people…We worked with social workers, we worked with mental health professionals.”
Benjamin said that the ORACLE program has helped the Sheriff’s Office tackle drug offenses, serving 755 individuals, sending 346 people to rehab, and ensuring 34 inmates are receiving medical treatment and after-care assistance. They’ve also conducted over 2,100 NARCAN trainings to help in cases of opioid overdoses.
As for Cody, Benjamin said he’s a welcome addition to the department.
“He’s not a police canine per se,” Benjamin said. “He won’t be out there stiffing for drugs or bad guys, but he’ll be used in crises. And he’ll be available to any member of the county, county government employees, visitors that may need a therapy dog. We’ll be increasing our area in that realm.”