NYC's newest sheriff saddles up to job
Attention city slickers, there’s a new sheriff in town – really.
For those who never knew New York City had its own sheriff – a throwback from the early 1600s – Edgar Domenech can understand.
When he told his parents in Richmond Hill he was taking over the job in January, even they had their doubts.
“They were like, ‘There isn’t a sheriff.’ They thought there was only the NYPD,” he told amNewYork recently from his office in Long Island City.
Other New Yorkers were similarly surprised to hear the city’s urban jungle has a badge-carrying sheriff on the prowl.
Devon Winfield, 33, of Canarsie, said she imagines a sheriff out of “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Domenech “has got to get out there more. Seriously,” she said.
Equally perplexed about the sheriff’s duties was Jasmine Siles, 21, of Ozone Park.
“Isn’t the sheriff usually bad?” Siles said. “They usually think they run the town and everyone is in the saloon hiding from him.”
It turns out, Domenech is happy to shed light on any misconceptions. For starters, his “posse” has a different focus than the NYPD, although the deputies also carry badges, guns and have their own vehicles.
“One thing we don’t get is a horse,” said Domenech, 48, who rides recreationally.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed him to replace retiring Sheriff Lindsay Eason, who served for eight years.
Before taking the job, Domenech was the special agent in charge of the Washington office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He said the main job of the Sheriff's Department is to “act as an arm of the civil courts,” going after deadbeat dads (and moms) for back child support, serving court summonses and seizing properties for auctions or to settle judgments. The deputies also carry out court orders requiring mentally ill patients to undergo psychiatric evaluations.
The department has 118 deputies, who make an average six arrests a week. Their base salary is about $80,000 a year, compared to the sheriff, which was about $170,000 under Eason.
But Bloomberg and the city Finance Department, which oversees the sheriff, are trying to lay off nine deputies to save money under the city’s budget crunch.
A state Supreme Court judge has temporarily blocked the layoffs while a petition by the NYC Deputy Sheriffs’ Association is resolved. The mayor said keeping them on will cost taxpayers $1 million a year.
(With Sheila Anne Feeney)
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• The position used to be an elected one in the city, making it highly political. Sheriff Alfred Smith became New York governor in 1923 and was the first Catholic politician to try to run for president
• Each of the five boroughs had their own sheriffs until a voter referendum in 1942 consolidated the position, said Undersheriff Joe Fucito. Outside of New York City today, each county typically has its own sheriff.
• In modern times, the city has had a black female sheriff, Teresa Mason (1996-2000), and its first Latino sheriff was Raul Russi (1995-1996).