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Eugene Conway, 69

By Mary Beth Roach

Onondaga County sheriff reflects on a career in law enforcement. He is retiring at the end of the year

Q: You’re retiring at the end of the year. What are some of the reasons behind your decision?
A: A variety of reasons. My initial plan was hopefully to serve two terms as sheriff. The first time was to become elected and then the second time being re-elected. To me, being re-elected is more of a validation of how I performed in the first term. I just turned 69. I feel that being 70 years old and in law enforcement is too old. I think it’s a younger profession. I just listened to a lot of advice.

Q: Do you have any plans for retirement?
A: I have family — I have children and grandchildren, so certainly spending more time with my family will be a priority.

Q: As you look over your career as sheriff, what would you say are some of your accomplishments?
A: I don’t know if I like using the word accomplishments. I’m proud of the fact that we have reached the highest levels of accreditation for all four departments. I’m proud of having an employee of the month and an employee of the year recognition every single month that I’ve been here. That has not been overlooked. Just proud of supporting the men and women of the sheriff’s office who continue to distinguish themselves.

Q: Is there anything you would like to do or accomplish before you leave office?
A: Improve the facilities that we work out of. Our heliport, our property evidence unit, our headquarters building. They all need improvement as far as renovations. Actually, we’re trying to consolidate with the city police on property evidence. That has stalled. I don’t know why since consolidation was so important a couple, three years ago.

Q: Has there been a most favorite and a least favorite part of your job?
A: Most favorite is having the pleasure of promoting and recognizing people either on a monthly basis or at our annual awards ceremony and promoting those people who are deserving of promotion. Least favorite — attending police funerals.

Q: This job comes with some controversy and stress. How do you handle all that?
A: I’m a person who embraces challenges. I accept those challenges and that’s how I look at things that maybe difficult or controversial or what people say maybe impossible to achieve. It’s certainly stressful, but I have a great family that supports me and I have a lot of people that I work with and also outside work that I enjoy being with, so that helps.

Q: The sheriff’s department has been in the spotlight in recent months over various issues. How do you keep the morale up among your deputies?
A:Certainly through communication with them. I remind them quite often, and especially the new recruits, that we, as human beings, are imperfect. We make mistakes. Those mistakes are probably amplified more so than other occupations. But it’s important that we continue to try to put our best foot forward all the time because when we do, that reflects on all law enforcement, and when we don’t, that also reflects on everyone in law enforcement, regardless of the agency.

Q: With the spike in gun violence lately, and with your years of experience, how can we mitigate some of these tragedies?
A: I think it’s a big picture question. And my feeling is that somehow we have to get back to respecting people as human beings, have a value for life. These are more social issues. Respect for each other, unfortunately, seems to have been all but thrown out the window. We have no respect for human life, and our value system seems to have denigrated.