TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Starting July 5, Tompkins County community members will be able to test out a unique pilot program from the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO), directed at addressing non-emergency calls.  

The program, which will deploy “sheriff clerks,” is slated for three years and is one aspect of the ongoing Reimagining Public Safety project. The goal of the pilot program is to better align available resources to emergency responses by having a program to address non-emergency calls. 

Deanna Carrithers, outgoing chief equity and diversity officer for Tompkins County, Monalita Smiley, project director of the Community Justice Center, and Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne led a June 21 forum to discuss the pilot program.

Two sheriff clerks — Sam Pulliam and Tara Richardson — have been appointed out of 85 applicants. The clerks will address seven types of non-emergency call including: Car vs Deer Motor vehicle accidents; assist in traffic complaints that are not actively occurring; property complaints like lost DMV items; vacant property checks; fraud from telephone scams; fraud/larceny; and noise complaints. 

Osborne said the group tried to target call types that often do not require any physical, in-person response and that are the most frequent. In 2021, the TCSO’s received 2,627 calls regarding traffic safety, 3,277 regarding property checks and 1,266 regarding property crime. 

Osborne said the sheriff clerks are embedded in the road patrol unit and will be supervised by the road patrol sergeants. He said one benefit of the program is how quickly the office can switch between which units respond to calls. 

“If the sheriff clerk receives a call and starts working on it and realizes there’s more involved than they can handle, they can reassign it to a road patrol deputy right away, and vice versa,” Osborne said. “If a call comes in initially for a road patrol deputy, perhaps the Sergeant will learn more about it and decide to alternate that and send that to a sheriff clerk. So it has the ability to quickly change our response given the situation.”

When asked by a community member if the clerks would have arresting power, Osborne said they would not. 

“What came out from [the Reimagining process] is the community’s desire to have an alternative response method that didn’t involve armed police officers,” Osborne said. “That’s what we’re doing here. So these sheriff’s clerks are truly citizens with no police powers, no police officer status.”

In a response to a question about what type of backup plans are in place in case things go awry, Osborne said the biggest backup plan is that the road patrol sergeants — who will be supervising both the deputies and the clerks — can move the call into the hands of a deputy who can physically respond. 

“Obviously, we’re not going to be able to have [a clerk] on at all times 24/7 […] because we only have two,” Osborne said. “So when they are not working and able to take calls, it’ll fall back to the deputies to handle.”

The hours from the clerks have not been set, but may include a Monday through Friday schedule or some weekend hours. Osborne said the department is trying to set the hours around times when the department receives a heavy volume of calls. 
Osborne said the office is looking to the community for help coming up with ideas on how they can track the progress of the program, as well as input on the types of calls that have initially been selected. Community members can submit ideas and comment their thoughts about the pilot program on the Reimagining Public Safety website.