Ahead of the primary, The Ithaca Voice and WRFI are hosting a live candidates forum with Derek Osborne, Ken Lansing and independent candidate Josh Brokaw. To learn more click here and to submit a question for the forum, click here.
ITHACA, N.Y. — Independent journalist Josh Brokaw, creator of the news site Truthsayers.org, has secured a spot on the ballot after getting over 1,450 signatures. He is running under the “TruthSayers” name.
Brokaw has no prior experience in law experience, but said in a news release announcing his bid for sheriff, “We always need to be questioning our presumptions and listening to the people with true compassion and understanding. As a journalist, those are traits I can bring to the sheriff’s office.”
Brokaw is originally from Indiana and attended the University of Chicago, where he received a bachelor’s in political science. He moved to Ithaca in 2015 to work for the Ithaca Times.
Brokaw said while campaigning he encountered many people surprised that anyone can run for sheriff. In 2016, legislators discussed doing away with having an elected sheriff and instead discussed appointing a sheriff. However, that discussion was eventually tabled.
Why is Brokaw running for sheriff?
Brokaw said from his professional and personal seat as a journalist, transparency is important to him. Brokaw said reporters receive a lot of news releases from police agencies, from shoplifting incidents at Target and other arrests, which often turn right into news stories. He said these agencies drive what people are seeing for public safety news.
“But when you get a press release about the SWAT team going out at four in the morning for a no knock warrant and then they get eight grams of coke and sometimes a handgun and sometimes not. And you know, they always say, ‘Heroin package for sale,’ but that could mean a couple hundred dollars worth. Which, if you know anyone who’s unfortunate enough to be addicted to heroin that’s like a day supply. So you get these releases and then when you ask, ‘Well why’d you feel the need to send out the SWAT team? Why are you sending up the heavy artillery?’ Basically they say, ‘You have to trust us. You know we have our reasons.’ And that’s not good enough. If we’re going to have police in military gear on the streets of Tompkins County, especially for 4 a.m. raids, which is pretty much when they go out for these, we need to know why. They need to show their work. And you can’t just say you have to trust us because we’re the professionals when there’s been a number of incidents in this office, specifically, that did not come out professionally.”
How does he expect to change that by becoming sheriff?
“I think as far as what the sheriff does, it really is a 95 percent administrative position. It’s a leadership position. So as far as dealing with what government looks like and how you read reports with full of acronyms and how you interpret what the state is trying to tell you I’ve got all that down. I’ve been reading those reports. I’ve been reading, I’ve been sitting in the same meeting rooms with all these other folks,” Brokaw said.
Brokaw said a large part of what deputies do is connect with people every day on patrol, and said talking to people and being comfortable and open with people has been a part of his work as a journalist. He also said a lot of people don’t feel comfortable talking to law enforcement.
“So how do we bridge some of that gap, some of that fear and really stand down some of this escalation of fear between the public and law enforcement?” Brokaw asked. “I don’t think you’re going to do that with a career law enforcement officer in these offices. Civilian control is something we could give a try.”
How will he make critical decisions and lead police operations, such as in scenarios like the Hornbrook Road incident in Danby?
“We certainly can’t do worse than how that ended up,” Brokaw said. “A man lost his life.”
Brokaw said Lansing and Osborne have had disagreements on that situation about who called who when. However, he said what strikes him about reading the after-incident reports is what came from them.
“There is a man dead, there’s a house ripped apart. I’m not sure that the property owners ever received any compensation,” Brokaw said. “I’m not sure why the office feels the need to be serving DWI warrants at 8 p.m. on Dec. 30. Why is that that urgent?”
In essence the reports found that Tompkins County followed the book, Brokaw said.
“If something goes that badly you need to look at the book again,” Brokaw said. “You gotta rewrite the book. You can’t just sit there and say well our policies were followed so we did fine even though all this terrible s— happened. The SWAT team policy hasn’t been updated since 2009. … Obviously policy and practice are not always exactly the same thing, but there’s there’s an attitude that we don’t need to pay attention to what instructions we are at least theoretically giving people who are entrusted with the power of violence to keep the peace. Because it’s what we do when we give them a badge and a gun. Every officer we say you have the power to wage violence against people in the interest of peace. So they need to be making that decision. Every single officer. Every day. And so just making sure that the workforce is — deputies, corrections officers are — each one of them feels empowered to make decisions, but that they’re also not going out there with fear in their heart.”
What would he change as sheriff?
Brokaw said he would focus on distributing resources and perhaps having a satellite office elsewhere in the county, like Newfield. Regarding a platform or key issues, Brokaw said it seems reductionist to run on a platform that has a “five point plan that’s going to solve everything” but said some issues that are important to him are transparency and focusing on the jail.
“I realize these sound more philosophical, but in a sense that’s who I am. I’m a big picture person by nature,” Brokaw said.
Brokaw said from talking to people who have been in the Tompkins County Jail, he said it is not in good shape and does not have enough recreational space for programs. He said people also need a proper place to detox in the jail.
Why does he think people should vote for him?
Brokaw said he wanted to run to ensure there was a choice in this election.
“A lot of people are interested in change,” Brokaw said.” You can’t represent every person’s feelings all the time because everyone’s got their own take. But talking to all those folks, people don’t want to be scared of law enforcement but they are. Not everyone. And that’s not to say that everyone who works in law enforcement is scary. But we need to do some real mediation on that front. Real talking between people, getting to know one another. And I don’t think that’s necessarily going to happen with someone who’s ingrained in law enforcement culture.”
Featured image: Josh Brokaw canvassing at Trumansburg Farmers Market, August 1, 2018. Photo courtesy of David M. O’Neill.