BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Months from now, voters in Erie County will elect a new top cop. After years in office, Sheriff Tim Howard has decided not to run again.
Howard's tenure is marred by controversy. As the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team has discovered, the sheriff has had very few public events on his schedule in the last six months.
Day after day and page after page, between January and June, Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard has little on his Erie County calendar. There are 11 events listed over six months. The 7 Eyewitness News I-Team obtained his calendar through a Freedom of Information Act request.
"I've attended a lot of events," Howard said during an unscheduled interview. "Just because the media chooses not to cover events I'm at doesn't mean I don't attend events."
The Sheriff refused to speak with us before this interview. Instead, his spokesman released a statement that reads in part, "...his position is more about keeping the people of Erie County safe than attending public events."
"I don't list my events on the community, county calendar because I choose not to. There's no specific reason for that but I keep track of my own events and I attend them as I see fit," Howard said.
For some comparison, we also got a hold of Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti's calendar for the same time period. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, there are meetings, updates and appearances each day.
That's something both Erie County sheriff candidates say we can expect to see lot more of, if they're elected.
Democratic candidate Kimbery Beaty showed us her calendar, as she commands the Department of Public Safety at Canisius College. If elected, she said she's expecting to be busy.
We asked how she plans to establish a climate and culture of transparency and accountability.
"We have to rebuild trust, work on rebuilding relationships with the public, restore and advance community policing, we need to have community meetings," Beaty said. "We need for the public to have a say about what happens in our community and we also need to get with the decision makers and all of us work together."
Republican candidate John Garcia says he will be visible-- in the community each week-- to hear about needs and concerns. He says that helps create a public trust.
"I want to hear what the issues are," Garcia said. "The issues are different if you're in Newstead, Grand Island, City of Buffalo, Concord -- there's different issues."
One issue in particular is what's happening inside the Erie County Holding Center, where according to the State Commission on Corrections, 32 inmates have died since 2005, when Sheriff Howard was first elected.
Garcia says there's room for improvement here.
Scrolling through the sheriff's calendar, Garcia says there's room for improvement in public life, too.
The Sheriff's spokesman argues, "there have been very few events over the past year (if any) due to COVID."
"You always have to make the effort and you always have to get in front of the issues," Garcia said. "Even though COVID hit, crime didn't stop."
We asked if he thought Howard had done a good job.
"Well, I believe he has done a good job as a far as, maybe not getting out into the community, in that example, and hearing what the community needs are...[but] the men and women of the Sheriff's office have done a tremendous job."
Beaty said based on the Sheriff's calendar, it didn't look like he was working.
"He should be out there, mending relationships and hoping that we can do a smooth transition for our county," Beaty said. "We need for the people who work in the Sheriff's office and the community to come together. We need for them to know dignity, respect and professionalism are at the heart of law enforcement, not at odds with it."
As for Howard and his calendar, his spokesman says the Sheriff "maintains constant communication with his command staff about the office and significant incidents."
As for the candidates, there are two things that unite them. Each has law enforcement experience and both say, this election will serve as a new direction for the Sheriff's office.