Sheriff candidates meet the crowd

The public got an opportunity to ask questions to the candidates. 


The two Democrats running for Dukes County sheriff, incumbent Robert Ogden and challenger Erik Blake, faced off during the candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Martha’s Vineyard. The event, the first in-person candidate forum on the Island in two years, took place in the packed Oak Bluffs library meeting room Tuesday evening, one week away from the state primary elections. 

The candidates also responded to questions from The Times ahead of the forum. 

The forum was moderated by League member Beatrice Phear.

The first question of the night came from Phear, who asked questions on behalf of the League. She asked each candidate’s top three priorities. Ogden listed improving the Island’s “60-year-old communications system,” the “rehabilitation and replacement” of the lockup facility, built in 1873, and developing more policies about how to treat “justice-involved” individuals based on restorative justice. Blake listed increasing the public’s awareness of the “roles and responsibilities of the sheriff’s department,” and forming a citizens advisory committee he will call the “sheriff’s advisory committee.” Blake’s third priority, which discussed responses to someone having a “mental [breakdown],” sparked debate between the candidates. 

“As sheriff, my priority would be to hire a clinical social worker or psychologist who will respond with officers in the field,” Blake said. “The sheriff’s department employee will be a vital asset in assessing the situation, de-escalating the scene, and getting that person the help that they need.”

“It seems like something that’s an opportunity here on the Island. Unfortunately, for us, as far as clinical psychologists are concerned, and counselors, we are very weak on how many people are available to perform those obligations,” Ogden replied. “We actually have those services in the facility, and I can just not imagine how much it would cost us or the ability to actually retain that individual and have them become a counselor on the road.”

Ogden added this would be a “police function,” since the sheriff’s “obligation is to the individuals that are incarcerated.” Ogden said he felt “there are other avenues,” such as more de-escalation training for officers. 

“If there wasn’t a solution, then it wouldn’t be a problem. There are people interested in taking on these roles, and the sheriff’s department has many people that … help out with law enforcement,” Blake said, listing the Drug Task Force and the Tactical Response Team as examples. 

Ogden pointed out that the individual Blake is proposing to hire would be providing a “specialized counseling service” that requires psychiatric licensing and training.

Some audience members brought scrutiny to the candidates when asking questions, such as what would happen to Blake’s businesses, such as Blitz Fitness Martha’s Vineyard, if he is elected. Blake said he brought up the businesses to show skills other than as police chief he could transfer over, but he did not say whether the businesses would be sold or another action would be needed. 

Activist Eugene Jemison said Ogden was not visible in the community. After Ogden listed his community outreach efforts, such as services to veterans, Jemison retorted, “Where were you when [expletive] hit the fan in 2020?” in reference to the nationwide outrage at George Floyd’s death from police brutality

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now, being a sheriff in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I’m not a police officer. It’s a different obligation,” Ogden said. 

The audience and Phear’s questioning also showed views that the candidates shared, including a need to improve the lockup facility for women and opposition to participating in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) 287(g) program, which the ICE website describes as “partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies to identify and remove noncitizens who are amenable to removal from the United States.”

The forum was streamed by MVTV, and will be available for later viewing.


  1. This sheriff’s statements when asked questions concerning the community really reflects how out of touch he is with the community he intends to govern and keep safe! Most of the questions that were asked of him his answer was “it’s not my job” We need a sheriff that knows his community and goes beyond “his job” to keep our community safe. I believe the current sheriffs main interest is building better jails and broadcasting how much money he can raise! Sheriff Ogden we are a community of real people who look to you for solutions to community issues here on this island! ANOTHER politician is not needed!

  2. Mr. Jemison, you seem a little out of touch with the sheriff’s actual job. Sheriff Bob has worked hard to bring Communications Center technology into the 21st century. As anyone who’s worked in either place can tell you, the jail and the courthouse are old buildings in need of serious repair and renovation. This involves raising money. It involves working with our state legislators and with Beacon Hill. Running the jail involves coming up with alternatives to incarceration when appropriate. Each of the island’s six towns has a police force whose members know their communities well, the Wampanoag Tribe has a tribal ranger, and the state Environmental Police have a presence on the island. The sheriff coordinates with all of them but need not, and should not, duplicate their activities. I wholeheartedly support Sheriff Bob for re-election, and I hope everyone who knows what the job involves will consider doing likewise.

  3. Eugene, I’ve never seen Blake handing out meals for the needy, spend a day running basketball tournaments teaching our kids about addiction, or driving veterans around to get their vaccinations- Bob Ogden is VERY involved in the community. Regardless, a sheriff doesn’t “govern a community” in the state of Massachusetts. Since you mention it, I prefer that his focus be on building better jails, not just sitting in community meetings where he has no power or authority. Shouldn’t your questions be about how he is affecting change in those environments? It sounds to me like “where he was” in 2020 was implementing restorative justice practices at the jail. And great, I’m glad to hear he DOES raise money from the state so that the burden doesn’t fall on our towns and taxpayers for a 911 system that can keep up with our summers.

  4. Coming from 18 years of experience in the field of corrections, as well as from growing up on the island. It is a delicate balance when it comes to managing the house of corrections and initiating effective community programming in order to alleviate recividism among offenders and providing them with resources to assure they remain out in the community as effective community members. We also have a responsibility to our first responders to provide them with up to date training, tools and equipment. Eventually it will come down to having to have an up to date modern facility in order to be able to house those offenders who cannot function in the community without breaking our laws.

  5. Actually Al it falls on everyone who uses a cell phone and landline. Look at your bill and that’s what all those surcharges are for. Next Gen 911 is very expensive and the technology very sophisticated. Linking cars, cell phones, landlines, marine communications and the like isn’t easy. Pretty cool how they can send first responders directly to an accident scene automatically upon air bag deployment.

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