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Undersheriff Jeffery T. Smith

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Undersheriff stepping aside ... for a while

Thursday, December 12, 2013 - Updated: 3:52 AM

By HEATHER NELLIS

For the C-S-E

GLEN -- When asked to talk about his right-hand man last Thursday, there were several moments Sheriff Michael Amato listed in defining Undersheriff Jeffery T. Smith's value as a cop.

One that is seared into his mind is set in the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 27, 2000. Smith, then a sergeant, stopped to check in with a deputy who initiated a traffic stop on Route 5 in the town of Mohawk.

Intuition kicked in when then-Deputy Anthony Priamo said the driver was acting a bit odd, and there was a good reason why --there was a body in the back of the car.

"It was a really good arrest in what turned out to be a high-profile case," Amato said. "But he's done a lot of high profile cases."

Such cases have culminated into a career Smith says he's proud of, but it's time to walk away. Last Thursday, Smith announced his retirement, effective Jan. 6.

At least, for now.

His public service will continue, and he still has his sights on the top spot.

"I'm not really retiring. I'm retiring to work part-time, and give myself time to look at public safety from a different point of view. Then, I'll run for sheriff when the sheriff retires," Smith said at his office Thursday.

Amato's term will expire at the end of 2014, and he indicated he'll seek at least one more term thereafter.

Smith said he'll never run for sheriff against Amato, though. So, in the meantime, he will continue as assistant chief of the Fort Plain Fire Department and the county's STOP-DWI coordinator, and work part-time for the St. Johnsville Police Department.

He has also submitted some applications for other jobs in the public safety field he hopes will come to fruition after the first of the year.

"Even if it's five years from now, 10 years from now, it is what it is. I'm still young enough where it'll work," said the 44-year-old Smith.

Smith was appointed undersheriff by Amato 11 years ago. By then, after 14 years, Smith had worked as a part-time corrections officer, full-time road patrol deputy, K-9 officer, DARE officer, a sergeant and lieutenant.

The appointment was necessary upon former Undersheriff Kevin Snell's retirement in 2003. Amato said Smith was an easy choice. Amato was an investigator when Smith was hired, and took credit for Smith's full-time hire.

"His interview was all the years I've known him," Amato said. "I saw his work ethic, and how he matured over time, because he came here as a kid. But by the time I was looking for an undersheriff, he had the background, because he had done so much."

"Not everyone is qualified to do police work and administration, plus be trustworthy and reliable enough to be me while I'm not here," Amato continued. "Jeff is."

Smith has been on the receiving end of numerous awards throughout his career.

In 1999, he received the office's Life Saving Award. He saved a Fultonville family asleep in their burning home, using his asp to break a window on the door to gain entry, rouse them, and get them out of the house.

He also shared a commendation with his former K-9 Dix after a successful tracking job during a drug bust in the city of Amsterdam.

A suspect fled on foot, and was jumping from rooftop-to-rooftop in the chase. But Smith and Dix eventually found him hiding in bushes nearby.

"There's been a lot of cases when the sheriff's department has been willing to provide what they could to help," said Amsterdam Police Detective Sgt. Michael Cole, who formerly worked with Smith at the sheriff's office. "Jeff is very knowledgeable, and even as undersheriff, he still comes out for raids."

Amsterdam Police Chief Gregory Culick echoed Cole, crediting Smith for his extensive knowledge. Culick and Smith started working in public safety the same year.

"I grew up through the ranks, and so did he," Culick said. "His retirement is a lot like losing a best friend. He's always been there for me."

Culick said he's often sought Smith's advice and guidance.

"For one mental health incident, he told me to follow a certain protocol, and make sure which report to get to the state," Culick said. "He's been invaluable in helping me form my police chief career."

On the administrative end, Amato credited Smith for helping him to lay the foundation for overhauling the county's antiquated radio system, redoing the 911 system with Fulton County, and updating the office's computer network and software.

"He's helped me revamp all of the systems, and it's very important to what we do in public safety. He's done a lot, but of all the things he's done, that work is the most important," Amato said.

"I'll miss his loyalty to the sheriff's office, and the entire system," Amato continued.

Smith's wife, Rebecca, said her husband's dedication doesn't get left behind at the office when he goes home every night.

"He's on the phone 24-7, and there's been times when he's been on vacation, but he still takes calls to deal with issues at the office," she said. "But that's what he does, and the family has, and always will, support him. I'm happy he has the opportunity to retire, but we would support him no matter what he chose."

Smith said he loves his job and serving the county, but said he needs a change.

"I felt like it was the right time to take a step back and rejuvenate myself. This position is a lot of work, and I do intend to run for sheriff. I want to take some time away, and be able to look at things from a different angle," Smith said.

Smith said he'll miss his job, though, mostly supporting the staff, and helping the people.

"A lot of credit needs to go to the men and women who work in this department," Smith said. "It was very rewarding to come here every day and see how hard they work to do the right thing for the people of the county.

"The people are the reason why we do this. Usually, we're dealing with people who are going through the worst moments of their lives, so if it moves them to reach out to police, they really need help. I hope the people have felt they were able to contact me, and that I gave them the service they deserve," Smith said.

Now Amato has the difficult task of finding someone to fill Smith's shoes. He has 10 days to make an appointment, according to state law.

It won't be as easy as appointing Smith, he said. Though he's proud of his staff, Amato said high turnover has created a limited pool of candidates with the extensive background needed for the job.

Amato is considering a couple of candidates not currently employed by the sheriff's office.

"I can't afford to pick someone with a lot to learn," Amato said. "I'm not saying anything bad about my staff, but I have to have a certain kind of person."

     

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