Candidates: Cooperation Best Chance At Success
Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part series featuring a debate between Sheriff Joe Gerace and challenger Jim Quattrone.
It’s likely going to take several agencies and educational campaigns working collaboratively and consistently to curb the number of deaths from drunken driving and drug overdoses.
That was the message provided by Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace and his challenger, Jim Quattrone, during a recent debate. Both men, on several occasions, stressed the need for cooperation among local, state and federal organizations to battle drunken driving and the opioid epidemic.
Speaking on fatal crashes involving drunken driving, Quattrone, a former lieutenant with the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office and Republican seeking the sheriff position, noted that the number of people killed has greatly decreased in the last three decades.
“We have to recognize that people’s lives are affected by both drunk driving and the drug epidemic, not just the opioid (epidemic),” Quattrone said.
“Many organizations focus on what the cost is. It’s really difficult to measure that cost because it’s more than financial. We have the emotional and social costs that’s involved.
“It’s really critical that as a Sheriff’s Office we are smarter and work more collaboratively with other agencies — police agencies as well as public health and treatment agencies.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in the mid-1970s, alcohol was a factor in 60 percent of all fatal car crashes. Since the 1980s, alcohol-related traffic deaths per population have been cut in half.
Gerace said reducing the number of drunken driving fatalities has been “one of my top priorities.” Seeking his seventh term as sheriff, Gerace said as the county’s Stop DWI coordinator he has seen a “dramatic decrease” in the number of fatal crashes involving alcohol.
“The days of laughing about drivers trying to stumble into the driver’s seat, they’re gone,” Gerace said. “We’ll see, I believe, even further reduction with ride sharing that’s in Chautauqua County. I’ve talked to the people that drive for one of the companies that say they’re driving drunks home every weekend. I believe that we will continue to see a decline, but we’re not going to let up on our pressure to get drunk drivers off the road.”
The number of fatal drug overdoses has also seen a decrease from 2017. According to statistics by the county Department of Health and Human Services, the number of overdoses could drop by at least 12 percent this year.
Quattrone said going after those who deal narcotics is important in reducing the number of fatal drug overdoses. Doing so means better communication, he said, between the law enforcement agencies that handle investigations and arrests.
“We have to share information back and forth between all the law enforcement agencies,” Quattrone said.
“Make sure that as a law enforcement (agency) we are working not only to eradicate the dealers but who is manufacturing them — who is prescribing them irresponsibly. … Chronic defenders need to be dealt with.”
Quattrone said he prefers having only one drug task force in the county, in particular noting the Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force and Jamestown Metro Drug Task Force, both of which investigates narcotics trafficking.
“We need to get back to one drug task force, not caring about who gets the credit, but focusing on a community-wide collaboration,” Quattrone said.
Gerace agreed regarding the need for just one task force.
“We never wanted Jamestown to leave the take force,” the sheriff said. “That was their decision. I spoke up about it. I continue to speak up about it. We wanted one drug task force.”
Speaking on the opioid epidemic, Gerace said the issue is not simply a local one. He criticized pharmaceutical companies that have allowed opioids to overtake some communities. In particular, Gerace noted that the county is looking to join a lawsuit against drug manufacturers for their role in the problem.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of the drug problem,” Gerace said. “That’s just not going to happen. … This opioid problem just didn’t fall out of the sky. I and many other experts will point to Big Pharma as creating this problem so now we’re dealing with it.”
Gerace said he has pushed for more drug treatment at the Chautauqua County Jail, with the help of the county Health Department and through mental health organizations. He alluded to a treatment housing unit at the jail that specifically targets drug abuse among jail inmates.
“We’re working with many agencies locally,” he said.