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Colleen O’Neill, 28-year veteran of state police, is running for Jefferson County sheriff


Colleen M. O’Neill, 51, LaFargeville, a 28-year veteran of the New York state police and daughter of former Sheriff Alfred P. O’Neill, announced her candidacy Thursday for Jefferson County sheriff, promising a focus on ethics, accountability and what she called “the priorities of the department and the community.”

She will be running as a Democrat.

During a press conference at the Masonic Temple on Washington Street, Mr. O’Neill, who served as sheriff from 1977 to 1985 after a long career with the state police, introduced his daughter as “the next sheriff of Jefferson County.”

In her speech to supporters, Ms. O’Neill said, “This county needs a sheriff willing to take a strong stance on ethics issues, leading the department into the future where the community respects the sacrifices the department members make every day.”

Ms. O’Neill retired from the state police in 2012 as a senior investigator in charge of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation unit at the Alexandria Bay state police barracks. She was joined by several of her state police colleagues, including her campaign manager, Brian R. McDermott, the former Watertown station commander.

State police Capt. James M. Land, who works out of Binghamton, said after the conference that he made the trip to Watertown to show his support for Ms. O’Neill.

The two have known each other and worked together in different capacities on several occasions, and Capt. Land said, “I think she’d do an outstanding job.”

Ms. O’Neill, who was one of only 10 women in her 1984 rookie class at the state police academy in Albany, left the state police road patrol in 1993 to become a counselor at the academy before training with the U.S. Secret Service and working for two years protecting Gov. George E. Pataki.

She was promoted to sergeant and investigator on the same day in 1996 and subsequently worked at the state police Forensic Investigative Center, where she served as a liaison between forensic doctors and investigators in the field.

She was transferred to the Watertown BCI unit in 2001 and worked investigating felonies, gun cases, death cases, crimes against children and sex cases, according to biographical materials provided to reporters.

She was promoted to senior investigator in charge of the Alexandria Bay BCI unit in 2009 and retired from the state police in 2012.

Ms. O’Neill joins a second Democratic candidate, Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau, and a Republican candidate, Watertown native and former Portland, Ore., city police detective John R. Bocciolatt, in the race for the position.

Sheriff John P. Burns, also a Democrat, was elected in 2002 and has been sheriff for three terms and nearly 12 years. He has been criticized repeatedly over the past two years for a series of incidents of alleged misconduct within his department. He has said he will not seek a fourth term.

In her carefully calibrated remarks, delivered to a crowd of more than 120 people, Ms. O’Neill leveled some not-too-subtle criticism at the department’s response to the allegations, which Mr. Burns and Mr. Trudeau said would include additional ethics training for deputies.

“I agree ethics training is a priority, but it is accountability that will make a difference. On-duty and off-duty accountability. Instead of police officers being allowed to believe they are above the law, we should be held to the highest of standards. ... Integrity is mandatory,” she said.

Ms. O’Neill said she would research every angle to address jail crowding at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building but placed heavy emphasis on figuring out why so many inmates are being held there in the first place.

“Transporting inmates across the state for housing at another facility is expensive, but more of a concern to me is that it is dangerous. I want to look at who is being incarcerated and why,” she said. “The solution might be there. Looking at the rate of recidivism and whether any type of ‘corrections’ is occurring or if the same offenders are simply warehoused until they are released and returned.”

Ms. O’Neill also said she would look at realigning the priorities of the department to better serve the community.

“It is clear to me that the deputies and detectives have such a wide range of responsibilities, it’s difficult to prioritize duties on a daily basis,” she said. “I will look at the possible realignment of manpower focusing on the priorities of the department and the community.”

And finally, Ms. O’Neill put herself solidly in the corner of the vocal contingent of north country residents who oppose the New York Secure Ammunitions and Firearms Enforcement Act, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature gun-control legislation.

“As Jefferson County sheriff, I will not target law-abiding gun owners, and there is nothing in the law that mandates I should,” she said.

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