Dukes County Sheriff candidates square off

Robert Ogden and Neal Maciel, each with decades of law enforcement experience, seek to fill the job held by the retiring Mike McCormack.

Neal Maciel and Bob Ogden. - Courtesy of the candidates.

On Nov. 8, Vineyard voters will decide who will be the new Dukes County Sheriff, Acting Sheriff Robert “Bob” Ogden of West Tisbury, or retired State Police Officer Neal Maciel of Tisbury. Each man seeks to replace Sheriff Michael McCormack, who will retire after 42 years in law enforcement, the past 18 of them as Dukes County Sheriff.

Robert Ogden, a graduate of Westfield State University with a B.A. degree in criminal justice and law enforcement, has worked at the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office for the past 26 years. He was the director of the Drug Information Bureau for 22 of those years. He lives in West Tisbury with his wife Jeanne and his daughter Olivia.

Mr. Ogden beat former jailer and Oak Bluffs recreation director Marc Rivers of Oak Bluffs, 2,269 to 1,357, in the September Democratic primary to advance to the general election.

Neal Maciel was born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard. His policing career began in 1975 when he joined the Tisbury Police Department. He has worked for the Oak Bluffs Police Department, and was a member of the Registry of Motor Vehicles when that organization was absorbed by the Massachusetts State Police. He retired from the State Police in 2010 as the commander of the Martha’s Vineyard barracks. He currently operates the student Driver Education Program at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He lives in Tisbury with his wife, Marilyn.

Mr. Maciel is running unenrolled. This is his second run for the position. In 2010, he unsuccessfully challenged Mr. McCormack.

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.

To better inform Dukes County voters before they punch their ballots, The Times asked both candidates why they are best qualified for the job and what they intend to accomplish during their tenure as Dukes County Sheriff.

You’ve worked in the sheriff’s department for 26 years. What are some of the most significant changes that have taken place over that time?

Robert Ogden: When I began my career as a deputy sheriff, the philosophy in corrections was locking up, warehousing, and forgetting. The resources we have at our disposal today and the seismic shift in correctional philosophy have made our jobs more efficient, meaningful, and public-service-oriented. A strong partnership with law enforcement, the courts, community services, and Island Counseling, a focus on re-entry and rehabilitation, the proliferation of computer programming through a regional management system, and computer-aided dispatch have dramatically altered the trajectory of Dukes County Sheriff’s Office and redefined our mission on Martha’s Vineyard.

You retired more than six years ago from the State Police. What are your qualifications to take over an agency with 47 employees and a budget of $3.5 million?
Neal Maciel: I retired from the State Police in May of 2010 after 35 years serving this community to become a candidate for Sheriff of Dukes County. At that time I was the station commander in charge of the Island barracks. During my assignment at State Police, I supervised the renovation of the station. The budget was over $100,000. The work was completed on time and on budget.

I also coordinated security on President Obama’s visits to our Island, and assisted the Secret Service with much of the logistics. We stayed within budget, and on several occasions returned money to the state.

I believe the experience I gained from running the state police barracks — working with other state and federal agencies during large-scale operations such as the presidential visits, July 4 events, and the Kennedy plane crash — make me the only candidate with the leadership tools this position requires.

Whether the budget is for a household or for an entire department, you have to work with it and live within your means. There is a finance director that handles the financial operations of the Sheriff’s department. The Sheriff is the person that sets policy and leads the department.

What do you see as the biggest challenges the next Dukes County Sheriff will face?

Mr. Ogden: The commonwealth has dramatically cut our budget and flat-funded us in the next fiscal year. It will take aggressive legislative work, in collaboration with our local state representative and senator, with the leadership of the House and Senate, with officials in administration and finance, and through collective bargaining alongside the other 13 County Sheriffs of the commonwealth, to ensure the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office continues to provide the kind of services our community has come to expect and deserve.

The rehabilitation of our 1873 building is a top priority. As special sheriff, I formed a capital project committee to address this issue and have proposed essential life-sustaining projects to the commonwealth, one of which will come to fruition as the next sheriff assumes office.

Mr. Maciel: First is morale, which is at an all-time low. Employee retention is a priority. The department has lost three sergeants in the past several weeks alone. The department’s employees must know they have the sheriff’s support. They need solid training, regular in-service courses, and a clearly defined chain of command.

The jail is not safe, and should not be located in a neighborhood, as it is now. Without a new facility, sooner or later, this one will be closed down and each town will be responsible for housing prisoners, creating an unnecessary expense to the taxpayers.

What role if any can the Sheriff’s Department play in addressing the growing opioid epidemic?

Mr. Ogden: The role the Sheriff’s Department plays in the growing opioid epidemic has already been established. I have dedicated my professional life to preventing drug abuse, especially in the youth of our community. This will continue and expand under my leadership, with a more comprehensive and meaningful educational platform. We will increase our intervention, rehabilitation, and diversion programming, both inside the house of correction and in the community at large. I will work hard to bring together the courts, law enforcement, and community services to intervene with credible alternatives, and quality treatment and recovery programs. Mr. Maciel: We are one of the top three communities in the state for heroin overdoses per capita. The Sheriff’s Department should have been in the forefront of this very real attack on our community. The department could be doing more to provide citizens a gateway to recovery. If elected I will make this a priority. The ANGEL program in Gloucester is based on the PAARI program (paari.org). With my leadership, I believe this type of program is one that could work here.

There is a concern that the process of allowing mainland criminals with no connections to the Island to serve time here is a public safety risk. Please comment.

Mr. Ogden: We house very few inmates from outside Dukes County. The transfer of inmates among jurisdictions is a well-established tool of inmate management, well supported in the general laws, and subject to strict state regulations and security protocols. Such transfers to Dukes County are primarily utilized to ensure an inmate’s safety. In every case, safety and security are our top priorities. Residents have nothing to fear from this rather small aspect of our custody and care mission.

Mr. Maciel: This was one of the main reasons I ran for office six years ago. Now it is worse. We are now importing murderers, sex offenders, and other higher-level criminals to serve time in our jail, none of which have committed crimes in this community; yet! An example would be Tyrone Gomes from Hyannis. Housing Gomes on-Island, mixing with our Island inmates, allows Gomes to make local connections. If elected, I will stop this policy.

What can be done to improve Island-wide communication among the various Island public safety agencies?

Mr. Ogden: The work has begun through the newly established Martha’s Vineyard Public Safety Communication Committee, a governance board consisting of stakeholders from EMS, Fire, Police, and the Sheriff’s Office. It is collaboratively setting policy, exploring grant opportunities, and developing fiscal oversight, to address the replacement and augmentation of our outdated E911 infrastructure. I am very excited for the future of our emergency communication system.

Mr. Maciel: First, be available and listen. Address their concerns, because lives depend on reliable communications. The retention of quality dispatchers for the communications center is a priority.