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An Interview: Chief Tim O’Grady

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Read the Village of Wellsville’s Chief of Police take on everything from his famous father to a very detailed response to the question of bail reform. Full Disclosure * Chief O’Grady was my upper class mentor at Immaculate Conception School in about 1982-83. He taught me how to bowl and we’ve been to church together, but its been forty years……

You succeed Tim Walsh as Chief of Police who sadly passed away late last year.  How did that quintessential Irish police chief influence this quintessential Irish police chief?

Chief: I think in any profession you take away attributes of your predecessors, mentors and peers, and from that you develop your own style of carrying out the duties of your position.   That is what I have been doing since being appointed a Chief of Police in 2006.  You are always evolving and looking at ways to improve yourself and the department.  When Tim Walsh retired in 2014, he left big shoes to fill and I strive to do just that on a daily basis.  

     Many readers have or had, a Tom O’Grady painting in their homes.  I’ve got several, my favorite is the Fawn and the Blue Jay!!  Which ones do you have in your house?

Chief: I have several of my father’s paintings hanging in my house as well.  My favorite one is of Ireland’s coast that he painted as a wedding gift for my wife and I.  Some others are an original of a cardinal that he painted for my wife, “I Hear the Drums” which is a girl and two boys sitting on a curb waiting for a parade and “Yankee Doodle” which is a print of carousel horses. 

     How do see your life growing up in Wellsville compared to the kids growing up here today?  Is this still one of the best places to raise kids in the world?

Chief: Certainly, growing up now is way different than it was in the 70’s & 80’s.  When I was growing up the area’s economic situation was more favorable than it is now.  Most homes were occupied with working families and merchants filled the Main St. store fronts.  In the summer, my friends and I would leave our houses on our bikes at 8 a.m. and only return to be fed lunch and dinner.  I think this was the way of life in a lot of places back then but things have certainly changed.  Many of the jobs have left the area and took the working families with them.  Wal-Mart, Amazon and online shopping have changed the way we shop and sadly closed a lot of the “Mom & Pop” type stores nationwide.  Absentee landlords who have no stake in the community have increased and dangerous illegal drugs have become prevalent.  Even though we have the same problems as our larger metro neighbors they are much less frequent.  Hopefully we are in another rebirth and maybe COVID will contribute to this.  This could be an opportunity for people looking for a more wholesome way of life to relocate to our area, as corporations revamp and have more employees working from home.   I think Wellsville offers a safe environment and continues to be a great place to raise children.  My children’s friends visit from other towns and states and love the freedom the Wellsville area offers.  One thing we have that you can’t take away is the great outdoors. 

     When the talk about consolidating the two Wellsville governments starts, the Wellsville Police Department is always a main topic.  Could the WPD become a town-wide operation and how much more would that cost? 

Chief: When you say consolidating the two Wellsville governments, I assume you mean abolishing the Village.  If that were to happen it would be up to the Town Board to decide how to structure current Village services like water, sewer, electric, street lighting and police.

      What do you say to the crowd who suggests abolishing the local police department and converting the property into a NYS Trooper substation? 

Chief: I certainly can’t speak for the State Police but I’m not sure that would be an idea they would embrace.  The State Police’s primary focus in most parts of the State is highway patrol and assisting local police and sheriff departments.  In addition, in the rural areas of the State, in the absence of local law enforcement, they also conduct investigations and answer routine calls for police service.  In Allegany County they do all of the above but what you don’t see them do a lot of is patrolling the side streets in the towns and villages.  They primarily patrol State and well-travelled county highways.   One of the primary functions of local police is to patrol to deter and detect potential criminal activity before it takes place.  So, there is a key difference in purpose.     

      The giant tower behind the police station that lets out some sort of ‘bird of prey’ scream:  Is that village property?  Are the ground level facilities for data processing/storage?  Who pays the electric bill?

Chief: The tower behind the police station is not owned by the Village but we do have radio antennas on it as does the Allegany County 911 Center.  It is equipped with a speaker that produces ‘bird of prey’ sounds to deter other birds from nesting there.  I’m not sure what is housed in the ground level facilities and any arrangements made in regards to land and electric usage were made prior to my tenure.

      Bail reform is a non-stop issue amongst law enforcement and victims, popular with criminal rights advocates though.  Explain how this has changed the way WPD works?  How do we fix this law now that it seems to be a long-term policy in NY?

Chief: For your readers who don’t understand, when someone gets arrested for a crime they appear in front of a Judge or Justice for an arraignment.  Some crimes that are committed require the police to have a defendant arraigned.  Other times it was up to department policy or officer discretion as to whether a defendant needed to be arraigned versus being issued an appearance ticket.  At an arraignment the Judge or Justice decides whether to place an amount of cash or property bail on the defendant, release the defendant to a third party or release the defendant on their own recognizance.  Bail is property or money put up as security that a defendant who is released from custody will return for future court dates.  While a defendant waits to post bail they are, in most cases, remanded to County Jail.  A lot of the time, especially in Allegany County, if a defendant could not post bail, the Probation Department could release them under Probation’s supervision. 

In January of 2020, NYS legislators passed bail reform.  As you pointed out, bail reform was popular for criminal rights advocates but in my opinion has been a catastrophe for victim’s rights.  Under the current law, defendant’s can only be arraigned and have bail placed on them for a host of more serious crimes and under certain circumstances.  On face value this seems like a good idea but I’m sure the victims of the crimes that were committed against them have a different opinion.  I have witnessed people released after burglarizing houses, stealing vehicles and even stabbing another person.  I understand that the purpose of bail is not as a punitive measure but sometimes people need to be temporarily isolated from society. Whether it’s because they are a potential menace to the community or to receive other services like Probation supervision, drug or mental health treatment. 

Currently, in most circumstances there is very little the police can do other than issue people appearance tickets for court.  It is truly upsetting to tell victims and complainants that the person being arrested won’t be removed from the situation.  They view this as “The police not wanting to do their jobs.”  The truth is our hands are tied. 

On top of this the court system in Western New York has been primarily closed since COVID started so there has not been any action brought against defendants in over year.  Again, in my opinion, this has made the criminal justice system in New York State a joke and the criminals know it.

How do we fix it?  Convince the majority of New York State citizens to elect different government representatives that are more concerned with victim’s rights rather than criminal’s rights. 

      Now that ‘marihuana’ is legal in NYS, what changes in procedure have you put in place?  Does this new law complicate drug investigations or allow the focus on deadly drugs to intensify? 

Chief: The recent legalization of marijuana has not changed department procedure.  We just won’t be arresting people for marihuana violations that have been repealed by the State.

The repeal of marihuana laws does not complicate drug investigations nor will it allow us to focus on more dangerous drug investigations.  Since my tenure started in Wellsville our “focus” has never been marijuana eradication.  Our focus has been and remains to be methamphetamine, heroin and other opioids.  

       The Alfred State “Ag-Tech” student traffic has long been an issue:  young kids just getting out of automotive/trade school and racing the 20 miles back to Alfred.  The Dyke Street four lane seems to be where the ‘checkered flag’ gets waived.  Is it a matter of time before something horrible happens?

Chief: It’s the same saga, different year but this year seems to be worse.  We continue to enforce traffic laws during peak times in the Brooklyn/W. State neighborhood as well as on E. State St. and the four-lane.  I know that the State Police, Sheriff’s Office and Andover Police have also increased patrols between Wellsville and Alfred during the student’s daily commutes.

      You’ve been recognized for running a tight ship and even reducing the overall WPD budget during your tenure as chief.  Where does that budget stand now in respect to your eight years as chief?

Chief: I have sat on all sides of the table; as a police union president, a police administrator and a County Legislator.  I too am a tax payer so if there is money that doesn’t have to be spent over the course of a year, I don’t spend it.  There isn’t much “fat” left in the police budget.   Any future budgetary savings will require some restructuring of the department.

     Enough serious stuff.  You would clearly qualify for our “Wellsville’s Finest” club but that will have to wait until your next career.  Still, as a class of 1988, who was your favorite teacher at Wellsville High School and why?

Chief: I had several teachers throughout my High School career that I enjoyed.  Mrs. Craft, Mrs. Decker, Mrs. Synakowski, Mrs. Oglesbee, Mr. Dibiase and Mr. Petzen come to mind.   They were always very fair and patient with me.  I wasn’t a very easy student to have in class.  

      Last question, hardest one:  You can only eat one local menu item for the rest of your life, what is it?

Chief: Pizza.  It doesn’t matter from where.

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