Dukes County Sheriff's primary race sets up November contest

The current acting special sheriff will face off against a former jailer in the race to succeed Dukes County Sheriff Michael McCormack.

Sheriff Robert Ogden says inmates are better off inside the Dukes County Jail on Main Street in Edgartown than outside during the pandemic.

Acting Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden of West Tisbury will square off with former jailer and Oak Bluffs recreation director Marc Rivers of Oak Bluffs in the state Democratic primary on Thursday, Sept. 8. The winner of that contest will face retired State Trooper Neal Maciel of Vineyard Haven, who chose to run as an unenrolled candidate, in the general election that will decide who will replace Dukes County Sheriff Michael McCormack, who is retiring after 42 years on the job, 18 years as sheriff.

The Dukes County Sheriff’s department is responsible for the county jail, house of correction, civil process, and the Island communications center, which handles all emergency 911 calls and public safety communications, and fulfills a variety of other programs and duties.

This week The Times asked each candidate to describe his background and respond to three questions is a set amount of words. Their biographies and answers, lightly edited, follow.

Robert Ogden has worked at the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office for 26 years. Following his retirement announcement, Sheriff McCormack named Mr. Ogden Special Sheriff for Dukes County. Mr. Ogden was president of the Dukes County Deputy Sheriff’s Association for 20 years. He has also served as director of the Drug Information Bureau, and he was appointed to the Sheriff’s Office Policy Oversight Committee and Personnel By-Laws Development Committee. Mr. Ogden has served on several community boards, including the Martha’s Vineyard Boys and Girls Club and Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force. He lives in West Tisbury with his wife, Jeanne Ogden, and daughter Olivia.

Marc Rivers was born in Boston in 1963 and moved to the Vineyard in 1972 to live with his grandmother, who was a nurse at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. He attended the Oak Bluffs School, and graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, class of ‘82. Over the course of four years, Mr. Rivers worked as a police officer in both Oak Bluffs and Edgartown before he went to work for the Dukes County Sheriff’s office on the overnight shift at the Dukes County House of Corrections for 13 years. He is currently the park director for the town of Oak Bluffs.

Please assess the role of the Dukes County Sheriff, and what, if any, changes you will institute if elected?

Mr. Ogden: The Sheriff of Dukes County is first and foremost is the keeper of the jail and house of correction. His role is to promote public safety by managing offenders and by providing programs to prepare offenders for successful re-entry into our community. He is also the chief law enforcement officer and a regional administrator of services which enhance the effectiveness of the courts, local law enforcement, fire, EMS, and community services.

I will continue to work with members of the Martha’s Vineyard Public Safety Communications Committee to develop a modern, Island-wide, P25 digital emergency 911 system within the next six years.

I will expand our current re-entry program for offenders by collaborating with available state and community services to help them acquire job skills and educational opportunities. I will also work with the Island Counseling Center to provide meaningful mental health counseling to drug offenders.

I will work to develop a diversion program so drug offenders receive rehabilitative services instead of jail time.

I will continue to enhance our community policing initiatives through greater collaboration with the Youth Task Force, MVCS/Island Wide Youth Collaborative, Martha’s Vineyard Councils on Aging, and the Public School system.

Mr. Rivers: The Sheriff oversees the local lockup, house of corrections, 911 Communications, and Community Corrections. I feel the department needs to be more proactive in our community, and that an evaluation of all aspects of the department needs to be made. Establishment of department transparency and accountability needs to be made available to the public. The morale of our employees also needs to be improved in order to prevent the large turnover rate that the department has been experiencing over the past several years.

What do you envision for the current facility, and do you support a new, expanded facility?

Mr. Ogden: I completely support a new, secure facility, in a centrally located, nonresidential area, with a much smaller footprint than was proposed in the early 2000s. I envision a 35- to 40-bed facility, capable of accommodating arrestees, sentenced inmates, female offenders, and juvenile offenders. The current facility is a 143-year-old facility and located in a residential community. While there is potential for replacing outdated structures and upgrading the physical plant, I would only proceed after input from neighbors and community leaders, to ensure it would not negatively impact the aesthetic qualities of the Edgartown neighborhood.

Mr. Rivers: I envision a new facility in a location yet to be determined. The current facility is in dire need of improvements, and is too small for the volume it currently experiences. I believe the current building can still be utilized for other purposes once improvements and repairs have been made. We will continue to maintain the current system until a future facility is established.

Nantucket does not have a house of correction. It utilizes the Barnstable House of Correction. Given the Vineyard inmate census — generally under 30 — what do you think of a similar arrangement?

Mr. Ogden: The Dukes County House of Corrections is completely funded by the commonwealth through our state tax dollars. If it’s eliminated, those hard-earned dollars will go off-Island, and we would lose our ability to rehabilitate our own. It would also result in a loss of revenue to local vendors. Most importantly, we would put a large percentage of our 46 employee families out of work. Loss of revenue means loss of jobs. Bad idea.

Mr. Rivers: I oppose using the Barnstable House of Corrections due to the loss of jobs within our department, as well as the hardship it would cause to family members of the incarcerated who come from our community.