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Ken Lansing

Ken Lansing is running for his third term as Sheriff on the Independence Party line.  A native of Philmont, NY, Lansing went to Gennesee Community College in Batavia before moving to Cortland, where he became a security officer at the SUNY campus.  A year and a half later he was hired by the Cayuga Heights Police Department, where he worked full time.  During that time he also worked part time for the Dryden Police Department, and then worked part time for the Trumansburg PD for 25 years.  At the same time he his way up through the ranks to 1998 when he became Police Chief.

He and his wife Michelle moved to Tompkins County in 1973, and have lived in Dryden and Ithaca, and finally settled in Trumansburg.  They have seven grown children.  Lansing says he wants another term because it a bad time to change, with several initiatives already in progress, and says he really loves the work.

Lansing Star Why are you the best candidate for Sheriff?

Ken Lansing It is always a great thing to have education and training.  That's always a great thing.  But you can never substitute that for on the job experience and time put in.  I don't care if it's law enforcement or any other job.  Experience always makes it better for you and the organization that you're working for.  I've got a lot of experience, and I care immensely about the community and the men and women that I work with.

Right now I think it's a good time to keep me around with my team because we've got so many things that we've been working so diligently and hard on with the County and other agencies.  Right now I just don't think a change is a good idea.  I have nothing against anybody that's running against me.  I just feel we're flowing right now.

And I think many of the men and women here have expressed that.  They'd like to see us stay.  That's my reasoning, and I look forward to another four years.  I really do.

Lansing Star What would you say the top couple of issues are that need to be addressed in the next four year term?

Ken Lansing One of the biggest things -- and it's not more space.  I want to make that very clear -- is jail housing.  The Public Safety building is quite old.  It was born in the '80s.  It was not, obviously, as big as was recommended by the State, but nonetheless the County stuck with their guns and built what they did.  The County along with the Sheriff's Department has worked very hard to keep the numbers down.  We've been very successful in doing that over the last four years, and bringing the necessary programs here to do that.

But the challenge is we need more room.  This building is old.  Now we struggle with the legislators and engineers -- what are we going to do?  We came up with an idea to move us into another building close by or build onto this building and make more program space... no more jail cells.  We're not asking for that.  We're going to keep that as it is.  Right now our numbers are historically low, and board-outs are historically low.

So that's good.  The programs that this county has put into action, and the efforts that we have put forth are working.  And that's great.  So that's one of the biggest challenges.  What do we do with this building and get more program space?

I don't see other issues.  I think we've addressed a lot of them.  But there's always room for making you and the Department and the services better.  We will continue to do what we've been doing.  We've done a lot of trainings, not just for our people, but for many county employees.  We've already started to help some of the local churches with the Active Shooter program.

We will continue to serve the community in any way we can to make it a better place and a safer place with educational instruction if they need it.  We look forward to continuing to do that.  The men and women (work work in the Sheriff's Department) enjoy that.

Lansing Star How bad is the drug problem in Tompkins County?  If budget were no object, what would you have the Sheriff's Department do that it is not currently doing to reduce drug related crime?

Ken Lansing We're doing a lot with the jail and on the road.  With that being said, it is a very big problem.  We all know that.  We continue to work with all the agencies to help with the constraints that we have.

So what would I do if I had an unlimited budget?  I would help us get a rehab facility, a detox building.  That's important.  Jail is not the answer and a hospital is not the answer.  Specialized units are needed to help these people with their issues with drug addiction.

I would help with that, and institute some places for that.  There are buildings around here that could accommodate that.

That being said, because of the drug issues and the problems that we have with more crime for people to get the money they need for the drugs, other things are important to the community like traffic enforcement and things like that.  Those are not enforced the way they should be.  I know that's a complaint from people.  It was even a complaint in Cayuga Heights, a little village there when we did our great job of having traffic enforcement.

You just don't have enough people today to serve the community.  They understand there's a drug problem.  But they also understand they've got speeders on their street, or they've got people passing school buses and they'd like to see us out there enforcing that.  That's part of the need, but for drug enforcement you can always use a lot more help.

We do a great job because we work with the other agencies, and that's huge.

Lansing Star The County is studying shared facilities for the Sheriff Department and the Ithaca City Police.  Would moving the Sheriff Department downtown make it easier or harder to perform Sheriff Department functions?  Likewise, hypothetically, if local departments were to merge, how would that impact law enforcement outside of the city?

Ken Lansing We've been working on that.  It's a very difficult thing to do.  First of all, if you're going to do that you need a good location for the agencies, especially the County (Sheriff's Department) that has to respond outside the city to various calls.  That can be difficult and that's what we're looking at with the City right now.  What location would best meet our needs to be able to respond properly and so forth?

So we're looking at that.  If you can't find a location it just won't happen.  That's a huge issue.

Could it be beneficial if we could find something like that?  Yes, because now you've got both of the big agencies in this county housed in the same building.  we work very closely together, but when you're in the same facility... obviously we'd be doing briefings and stuff together.  There would be more shared information, even though we do a great job of that now with the Spillman system, which is our reporting and recording system.  It would be good.  I can see the benefits of that.  I've always liked the idea of something like that in police work, because it's a better service to you and the rest of the community.

If done right and properly merging the departments is not going to save you money, as a lot of people think.  You would have to continue to have the numbers that we have.  With that being said, we could expand the zones.  We all have zones that we work.  They have 'beats' in the city, and out here we and the State Police have 'zones' and 'sectors'.

If you take the city police and were able to spread them out into the Town of Ithaca and things like that, that gives us the ability to spread out our ones in the County and possibly have better coverage.  It would be interesting, but I feel it could work as long as it was done in a correct way.  I really think it could be beneficial to everybody down the road.

Could it save money down the road?  Possibly.  I don't know that it would.  At first it definitely would not.

Lansing Star The Hornbrook Road standoff seems to have been a defining incident for the Sheriff's Department.  If you could go back in time what would you do differently, if anything, and why?

Ken Lansing That was a very difficult situation with the gentleman in question.  Between our agency and the State Police we attempted to service that warrant 18 times.  We tried all kinds of ways to do it... sitting out by the fire department hoping to catch him driving, going to where we thought he worked.  We actually had one of our people go up in plain clothes and knock on the door and make believe their car was broken down.  We did a lot of things to try to get him to justice and get him the help he needed.

That night in question we were trying to do that.  They got there and, in fact he was there at that point in time and they were able to establish that.  The incident started to unfold.

Unfortunately what escalated it to the degree that he did was he chose to shoot at our officers that were on the scene.  That turned it into what we ended up with.

If I could change something, I wish we were able to convince him to give up.  We had great negotiators there, but he chose to cut off our communication line.  We had people that knew him volunteer to come up and talk.  Of course we couldn't send somebody in the building.  It was too dangerous.  He had already shot.

We kept the community safe, which is our first objective.  We kept the men and women who work in the various departments safe with the vehicles we had to keep them warm and safe inside.  We obviously got the family out of there, two children and his wife.  And we did save the dog that was in there.  The robot let the dog out.  And we got him the protection that he needed.

You know... I understand the situation that bothered the citizens in the community with the use of the Rook (an armored vehicle that breached the house).  The machine was offered to us by the State Police from Pennsylvania.  The captain from the New York State Police was able to make that arrangement because he had helped them not too long ago in capturing two murderers in Pennsylvania,

I understand what it did to the people.  I understood at the time what it was supposed to do.  And I surely understand the public concern.  But we went to great extremes to make sure that we cooperated so the public could understand.  We wrote a huge report.  We met with them in the Legislative body to answer questions and give the report.  Then we asked two federal agencies to come in here.  They did evaluate the incident.  We got good information from that, but they found that we hadn't done anything that was gross negligence on our part or anything like that.  Just recently the we won the Supreme Court decision on the (civil) lawsuit on the destruction of the home.

But that doesn't make it better.  It should bring closure to the concern of the community of how we reacted, and I get that... from people saying 'gee you could have driven away' -- but he shot at us.  'But he only shot once' -- that was some of the stuff that people said.  I get it.  I understand it.  They don't do our business.  I understand that.

Nonetheless we did what we had to do and we were well within our rights to do so.

If I could change the whole thing... maybe we could have not used that vehicle.  But my understanding from what I knew, and I spoke to the Colonel that came up from Pennsylvania that it was a new tool used in the area for the first time, or maybe the second time, especially in New York.  And I didn't want anybody to get hurt, including the person inside.  There was no doubt that he was there and ready to engage in a confrontation with us.  We found that out with all the guns that were in there and all the various places that he had set them up.

Unfortunately it did work... it did help.  But I understand now the community's concerns, so I would have to give it more thought.  I get that.

But we did our best.  We were able to accomplish two of the things, again, keeping the community and the men and women there safe.  And unfortunately we were not able to get the subject to come out and get the help he needed.  We'll always live with that.

And I really feel for the owners of the home.  I really do.

I did look into some stuff with the New York State Police Captain about insurance not covering such a thing.  He told me of an incident they had, when the insurance company refused to pay.  But when it was fought they had to pay it because the owners of the property really had nothing to do with any of the incident that caused the damage.  So I looked into it and passed that on to them.

I don't know what else I could have done, but I truly understand the community's thoughts about what they saw and their feelings.  I had feelings, too, about it, but I did my best with what I had.

Lansing Star Is the Sheriff Department making the best use of its Web site and social media to provide information to the press and the public?  Also, the Sheriff's Department used to produce an annual report that included, among other things, annual county crime statistics.  You had to look but you could find it, and it was really great.  I haven't been able to find it for years.

Ken Lansing I'm going to be honest with you.  We did it for one or two years.  Modern technology was there then, but even more-so now.  We do daily, monthly reporting that is available through the Web site.  But I understand exactly what you're saying.  There still are sheriffs that put a great deal of time and effort in making a very nice annual report and I get to see them.

Lansing StarI can see that you have the incident logs and such, but to be able to see the aggregated annual statistics that make sense of all the daily stuff was valuable.

Ken Lansing I understand, and I don't disagree.  I don't want to hang my hat on this, but it is the truth... it's the ability to have enough staff to accomplish those things, because it was huge.

For the first three or four years I had no confidential secretary.  The time and ability to do that became very difficult for us.  Again, we do the statistics and report them.  But I agree with you.  You're dead on.  It is important to the people to see that, and now you don't have to make the hard copies.  You always seemed to have a whole pile of them that nobody took.

Now I do have a personal secretary -- not that she's not not busy.  She is.  I share her because of the staffing problems we have.  But that being said you bring up a good point, and it surely could be something we look at again now that I do have somebody that already puts the statistics together.  Now it's a matter of putting it in a format like you're saying, an end-of-the-year report.

I'm glad you brought it up, because we could look at that now.

Lansing Star The rest of the question was is the department making the best use of social media and the Web site.  That has to do with public outreach, but also in our modern day, that's what people look at.

Ken Lansing We feel we are.  We get a lot of 'likes' and people commenting and agreeing and disagreeing.  We feel we are.  We keep it up daily, and my confidential secretary has a lot to do with that.  It's one of her many tasks.  She's done a great job with doing that.

So we try to keep it up and reach out to the media with that.  The County and the City has a system now (the Swift911 alerts system) to warn people of the special things going on, be it power outages or whatever.  So I believe we do.  We always strive to see what we can do better.  There's no doubt about it, but I think we're doing a good job, and we'll continue to do what we can to make it better for everybody.

Lansing Star Is road patrol adequate in the county?  Again, if budget were no object, how many deputies would it take to adequately patrol the whole county, excepting municipalities with their own police?  Would it be worth hiring new deputies to reduce overtime?

Ken Lansing  Yes. We've got five zones here in the County.  Ideally for me if we could have five road deputies and at least one supervisor -- we do have one supervisor.  Sometimes we're lucky enough to have two -- that would be ideal.  It would, along with the State Police, the protection that we could adequately provide for what's needed in the County.  Again, the things we talked about earlier -- special patrols for traffic enforcement, and other things that become important that we just don't have.

Right now the minimum that we will put out there is three road deputies and one supervisor.  We do that contractually -- that's what should be out there at the very minimum because we owe it to the community to keep them safe to the best of our ability, along with the State Police.  Five a shift would be fantastic!  And maybe you could pare it down  to four on the midnight -- the 11 to 7 -- shift.  It may not be as busy, but then there are times when it is a busy shift.

What was the second part of the question?

Lansing Star Oh, it was: would it be worth hiring new deputies to reduce overtime?

Ken Lansing It certainly would help.  There's a thing that they say out there: 'sometimes it's cheaper to pay the overtime than it is to pay salary and fringes for a full time person'.  That may have some value in figuring it out, but I don't agree with that.  I feel that having the necessary personnel out there is important for many reasons.

Overtime is always an issue, because you can't manage it.  You can have a year, or a month that's great, just the normal calls that you do.  But once you start putting in high crime things like murder -- and we've had our share, unfortunately, in Tompkins County over the last few years.  Burglaries.  Problems with abuse.  That's huge and we do a lot of investigations and that takes up a lot of time, because you have to do a lot to make sure you get justice served when it comes to abuse problems.

Again, with people being injured or off on disability... you can't control that.  You have no control over that.  Recently we had eight people on the road patrol side out on disability.  We have three per shift.  it makes it very difficult.  And the same thing can happen on the corrections side.

But we have managed it to the best of our ability.

Now what you can manage and control is time off.  Vacations and things like that.  That is in our control and we do control it.  We have standards of how many people can be off at one time, and things like that.  We've had days where we've had to say to people 'you can't take off this weekend because of the situation we're addressing'.  So we do our best to manage it.

We've done well as far as the budget is concerned.  We have stayed within the budget.  I have not been over budget on the jail-side since I've been here.  And we're on target this year to make it eight years of that.  n the road-side (we went over budget ) very minimally in 2013 and 2014... very minimal.  I think it was 20-some thousand dollars in '13, and I'm not even sure -- but it was pretty low in 2014.  That's pretty small considering the size of our budget.

Lansing Star How effective do you think Alternatives to incarceration has been?  Should it be expanded?  Would it be enough

Ken Lansing Yes.  I was somewhat amazed at first, because learning about that as I became the Sheriff eight years ago... it was something that you had to get a handle on.  I didn't have the expertise on that.  This county does one heck of a job.  All the services that we work with -- Probation and Mental health and you name it -- do a great job.  They're the ones along with our staff and the new staff that we've hired... now we have two full time nurses.  We have a person who speaks to everyone who comes through the door to find out what their needs are before we put them in jail, and we fill those needs.  We have a psychiatrist that addresses the things she finds immediately.

So that has helped.  And the re-entry program and the other agencies -- OAR (Opportunities, Alternatives & Resources)... I can't speak highly enough of those organizations and what they've done for us and made us able to do.

It has worked.  And I'm going to tell you one more quick story about that.  The new (New York State Commission of Correction) commissioner (Allen Riley, when he became Deputy Commissioner... he was like most of the commissioners who tend to be retired sheriffs.  When he was Deputy Commissioner he came up to see us.  I knew him very well.  He said, "I want to tell you something.  We all can make fun of Tompkins County, but you people are really on target.  We can't keep locking people up.  You and this county has done an admirable job of getting the numbers down and getting people the help they need."

He said, "If I was still Sheriff I would come to you and your people here to find out what you're doing, so I could implement it in my county."

That was quite a compliment, and he is a great person.  I thanked him, but he said, "No, your county is doing one heck of a job."

So people see it and they realize our county is different.  And we are different.  But the also respect us for the programs we implement for our incarcerated people.  I'm proud to be a part of that right now, and that's another reason I want to stay here.  There's more to do.

Lansing Star Has the county waited too long to expand the jail?  Is the jail adequate to handle the current level of incarcerations -- I think you already answered that -- and those anticipated over the next decade?

Ken Lansing We are now, because the numbers are down.  And we are able to handle them. And board-outs are down.  The concern is the age of this building.  It was built in the '80s.  The people who put this together... how they did some of the things... I'm not an engineer, but you still question it.  We're having issues.  We've got plumbing and heating and things like that that are starting to fail.

The building structurally seems to be very sound.  It's the internal workings of it that need to be addressed.

So the County, along with the engineers and people have to take a look. What do we do?  Do we put money in this building, and can we?  To make it last another 20 years?  And then do something with the Sheriff's Road Patrol and Civil, and put them into another building close by?

It's very difficult for the Sheriff and the staff on the road-part to be too far away.  We looked at the building next door.  We were almost able to use it, but then they needed it.  We thought about adding on to the building... Right now the airport is in a big building mode, and (Airport Manager) Mike hall is thinking about a new emergency building for his fire department.  He's offered to help us, should all that come together, with that.  So that's another possibility.  Plus we're looking at (a shared building in Ithaca with the IPD).  So there's a lot there that needs to be looked at.

I think the big question, and a lot of the legislature, especially the new ones, have asked me about it, and (IPD Captain Ray Bunce) who has given his opinion, and so have I... and they are now concerned.  We need to look at the inside to see what we have to do.  There are other options we have to look at rather than what we started to talk about.  So it is a big deal.

As far as space and what we're doing the space has been adequate.  They took our variance away -- it scared the living heck out of us! -- it was not so good for the previous sheriff when they did it to him, unfortunately, and there was nothing that he could do about it.  I'm certainly not pointing a finger at him.  But the board-out costs were amazing.  We've been fortunate because of the Alternatives to Incarceration.  Every organization I mentioned and the men and women in here -- what they have done to work hard to do what we need to do so there is no recidivism and they don't come back to see us.

Right now the jail, as far as space we're accommodating what we need to.

Lansing Star What haven't we talked about that voters should know about your candidacy?

Ken Lansing I know it's been an interesting eight years, that's for sure.  One of the most difficult things I have to deal with sometimes is... I know I'm not perfect.  I never said I was.  I never claimed to be.  I like giving credit whee credit's due to the men and women I work with and the other agencies I work with.  But sometimes it becomes very difficult, because I do have feelings and emotions, when people try to make you something that you're not.  That's truly troubling to me.

I'll admit my mistakes.  That's how I was brought up by my Dad.  You be truthful and you treat people the way you want to be treated.  I live by that code.  I don't care who you are, even if you've done me wrong or somebody else wrong I will do my best to treat you as a human being because that's what you are, and that's my responsibility in life.

So when people sometimes like to drop something on you -- and sometimes they hurt other people when they do that -- that's very difficult for me to swallow.  But I do, and I do my best to turn the other cheek and be the person I was brought up to be.  So that's one of the most difficult things for me.

Other than that, I just enjoy the business.  That's why I've done it.  My family is following in my footsteps.  Two of the boys are police officers.  My son is a sergeant in the United States Army, and my daughter is married to a homicide detective in Washington, DC.  In District 6 -- he supervises them now.

When my daughter married a police officer it truly sent me a message about what we always worry about -- did I give enough to my family because of the holidays and nights and all that kind of stuff that goes with this business?  When she married a police officer, I said 'Wow, I guess I did OK'.  Because she's letting him be the father of her kids.  They've done a great job.  They have two boys.  That meant a lot.

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