On Oct. 20, Bernie Rivers, who is vying to be elected as Sheriff for Orange County, New York this November, sat down with Vision Times to discuss his bid and how he would approach the role if elected.
“My main message to voters is that I will be a County Sheriff that will work for them regardless of their political affiliations, regardless of what they believe, what they don’t believe,” he said, adding that “I will enforce the law equally and equitably across the board. As long as they are not breaking the law I will protect their rights to protest, to go about their lives and I will work for them and not necessarily work for the legislators of the county or the state.”
With over four decades of law enforcement experience under his belt, Rivers believes he is the best candidate for the job.
Rivers, a life-long learner, graduated in March, 2016 from the State University of New York Empire College after being awarded a bachelor’s degree of Professional Studies in Community and Human Services with a concentration in Criminal Justice.
He began his career in law enforcement fresh out of high school in 1981, serving as a uniformed correction officer. Over the years he has volunteered in many roles, including with the town of Wallkill’s Ambulance Corp and with the Sliver Lake Fire Department.
He also served as a part-time police officer for the towns of Mount Hope, Wallkill, and Chester, in addition to serving for the Montgomery village police department.
From 1992 until 2005 he worked for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as a uniformed Environmental Conservation Police Officer and moved up through the ranks serving as an Environmental Conservation Investigator from 2005 until 2008 and then was promoted, yet again, to a Supervising Environmental Conservation Officer.
From 2014 to 2018 he served as a Chief Environmental Conservation Officer for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, retiring as a Two Star Division Director in 2021.
According to Rivers’ campaign website, he has “both traditional law enforcement experience as well as correctional experience; making for an ideal candidate for Orange County Sheriff who oversees both the road patrol and correction deputies.”
A lot of people don’t know what the Sheriff does
While campaigning and speaking with Orange County residents, Rivers discovered that many people do not understand what exactly the Sheriff position is responsible for.
“What I have learnt since I started running, a lot of people really don’t know what the Sheriff does,” he said.
“The Sheriff is responsible for overseeing the county jail, that’s one of their big responsibilities,” he explained adding that, “the Sheriff has deputies that work for him, and the deputie’s primary responsibility is civil enforcement. So they do evictions, process servings, serving orders on the people.”
He went on to explain that another primary responsibility of the Sheriff’s office is to conduct background investigations for pistol permits and assisting other local police departments that “might need help.” When not conducting those activities he said you will usually find deputies patrolling areas that don’t have their own police departments.
“We still have some towns and villages here in Orange County that don’t have their own police department. So, they are either covered by the state police or by the Sheriff’s Office,” he said, adding that, “So, the Sheriff’s Office is a uniquely specialized trained law enforcement unit that does both non-traditional and traditional police work.”
As Sheriff, Rivers says he will “strive for our officers to continue working for those towns and villages, that don’t have police protection, and working with local law enforcement to help bring down the crime rates, get illegal guns off the street, help with mental health; training for dealing with mental health illnesses and just ensuring that we are treating all of our citizens, and non-citizens, alike.”
“The Sheriff’s office is a political office and sometimes they work harder for the politics that got them into office rather than necessarily for the people and I think that’s the difference between me and my opponents,“ Rivers commented.
When asked why Orange County residents should elect him over his two opponents, Rivers said, “I believe I am better qualified than both of those individuals because I actually ran a law enforcement unit of over 320 officers, unlike them.”
He explained that one of his opponents is conducting a “write-in” campaign. He is not on the ballot so he is encouraging his supporters to write-in his name on election day. His other opponent, while he does have some law enforcement experience, has “never dealt with the budget of the Sheriff’s office, so he doesn’t have the budgetary experience. Whereas I worked and oversaw a $30-million budget with my staff,” Rivers said.
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Managing illegal migrants and bail reform
Rivers said he is aware that the Biden administration is transporting illegal migrants to Orange County from the southern border saying that “Yes, the U.S. government is sending planes here,” and focused his comments on the minors on those planes.
“The children on those planes are, I believe, seeking asylum here in the United States and currently there is a policy in place, that I am aware of, that we do not send children back across the border if there’s somebody here who can sponsor or host them,” he said.
“I think the politicians, on both sides of the aisle, have to stop using the kids as political pawns,” he said, adding that, “We do have an immigration issue here in the United States and our national legislators, our federal legislators, need to come up with a solution that works for everyone, rather than everybody digging their heels in saying, ‘No, we don’t want them. Yes we want them,’ and they need to stop politicizing it and just fix the problem.”
On bail reform, Rivers said that there are obvious issues with the way the laws have been applied across New York State.
“I don’t believe the bail reform, as it was originally written, is working properly,” he said adding that, “it doesn’t make sense that somebody can be released without bail, arrested, released without bail, and then, 2-hours later they get rearrested, and they are released again without bail. That’s a problem that people didn’t think of. So, again, go back and fix it.”
Rivers is running as a Democrat, something that he says surprises some people.
“Most people did not know that I was a Democrat until I announced I was running for Sheriff,” he said. “Most people assumed that I was a Republican. Having been in law enforcement for 40-years, and my stance on crime, and my stance on the 2nd Amendment people just assumed I was a Republican and were fairly surprised when I came out as a Democrat,” he added.
Rivers is on the ballot this Nov. 8, when New Yorkers from across the state hit the polls to elect candidates for numerous state and federal level positions.