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Columbia County Sheriff’s Race: Incumbent Republican Vs. Democratic Chatham Police Chief

In a New York county with a history of electing Republican sheriffs, a small-town Democratic police chief has mounted a challenge against the incumbent.

David Bartlett is running for his second term as Columbia County Sheriff. His opponent is Chatham Police Chief Peter Volkmann. Both candidates say a priority is combating the opioid epidemic, which has ravaged the county, and has taken the lion's share of time and attention of law enforcement authorities statewide. Bartlett says the opioid epidemic has kept his office busy.   "We're aggressively going out. We're targeting the drug dealers, trying to get the actual suppliers off the street. And actually the Columbia County Board of Supervisors authorized me a new narcotics investigator just a short while ago. Other things that we're doing on the flipside of the coin, as far as helping people: we have partnered with Twin County Recovery, which is down in Hudson, and if anybody comes into our office looking for help, they wanna get clean they wanna get into rehab, we will help them do that."

Hudson and its 6,400 residents have grappled with gun violence this year: seven shootings and one homicide, all traced to two rival groups in what officials call "a violence prone area" that occupies a small slice of city real estate. Police are on record saying drugs are an element of the "dispute."

Volkmann says the violence that has been occurring across Columbia County is directly related to drugs. "It's really hard for police to lower the supply. Why? Because there's a huge demand. As long as there's a demand, there will always be a supply. That's just Economics 101. I created 'Chatham Cares for You'  to start to lower the demand to give people an opportunity to get into treatment. And if they get into treatment, stop using drugs, lower the demand, that in itself can help. If you look at my program, this past year, and you take people that have walked in and just stayed clean for one month, and many have stayed clean past one month, but, but one month I have actually stopped a quarter of a million dollars of heroin being used in one year in Columbia County."

Bartlett says his office has no shortage of drug abatement programs. He notes that his 170-person department is consistently under budget. He says he works for the people and his office is much more than a police department. "Sheriff's office has five different divisions. Law enforcement, corrections, civil, emergency management and security services. So it's more than just being a cop. You really have to be trained and well-versed in all of these different divisions of this agency, and I am.”

Volkmann, himself a former deputy sheriff, says policing is changing. He's added body cameras, supplementing vehicle cameras, and reprogrammed the force into a community policing unit, a philosophy he'd like to bring to the sheriff's office.  "I created 'Your Cop' in which officers were assigned neighborhoods and they went after the community and they met every resident in Chatham. And just had community conversations, without an emergency and without the emotions that come with emergencies. You need to go back to when I started 30 years ago, the old-time cop that got to know their community. And that's what I wanna bring to Columbia County."

Volkmann , endorsed by state Assemblymember Didi Barrett, appears on the Democratic, Working Families, and Women’s Equality Party lines. Bartlett, who has the endorsement state Senator Kathy Marchione, is on the Republican, Conservative, Reform and Independent lines.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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