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New Erie County sheriff pledges to make improvements for jail, road patrol

John Garcia has officially replaced embattled 16-year Sheriff Tim Howard. Garcia faces some major challenges, and he knows it.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The new year brings a change in leadership for one of the top elected offices in Erie County with a crucial role in public safety.

John Garcia was elected on a promise to transform county law enforcement and the way inmates are treated here.

Like the Erie County Sheriff's Office 200th anniversary new look for their SUV mounts for deputies, the new man in the saddle as sheriff faces some major challenges, and he knows it.

Garcia addressed the assembled crowd as he was officially sworn into office, and he said, "I want to thank all the voters of Erie County for having the confidence in me, and I won't disappoint."

With his embattled predecessor Tim Howard looking on, John Garcia now takes the reins of a sheriff's office that has faced investigations and charges of everything from misconduct by deputies, to alleged improper practices at the Erie County Holding Center, which led to numerous inmate deaths and suicides and alleged scandals involving female inmates and corrections officers.

So now Garcia, who was elected as a Republican in a once-crowded candidate field, says he'll use his decades of his wide ranging experiences as a Buffalo cop and his picked command staff with state and federal experience to enhance training and make other improvements.

So 2 On Your Side asked: Does that imply a culture change?

Garcia's response was, "With new people comes a new culture, and it starts at the very top."

Garcia wants diversification in the 150-person road patrol detail, which currently has only one Black and 12 women as members. He urges minority corrections officers to apply and to focus more on inmates' mental health and substance abuse issues. 

But one out of the gate his decision, as reported by The Buffalo News, is to appoint now former deputies union chief Timothy Donovan as his new professional standards chief. That's much like the internal affairs unit.

We asked: "Isn't that also kind of putting you off on the wrong foot, saying to the public, 'I'm putting somebody in who protected deputies in the past as a union leader, and now he's going to investigate them?' "

Garcia replied: "So again, I respectfully disagree with that concept that you just presented. Chief Donovan, knowing the contract inside and out, knowing what you should have done, and then what you did and so forth, we're about correcting behavior. Again, as we prevent crime, we prevent bad behavior."

Giving the benediction for the swearing in was Buffalo Chapter NAACP President Rev. Mark Blue. Blue said he was reaching out but adds this key point.

"I thought it was important that I be here to let him know that not only am I here to add support, but we're watching and we have to have communication," Blue said.

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