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Saying the Sheriff's Department "seems to be headed in the wrong direction," Sgt. W. Ross Annable of Hartland has sent a letter to his boss, Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein, to announce he will running against him in this year's election.

Beilein, a Newfane Democrat, is seeking his third four-year term. Annable, a Hartland Republican, is making his first bid for elected office.

Annable, who expects to announce his candidacy later this month, told Beilein in the letter that he wanted to let Beilein know his plans before making them public "because of my respect for you as a person and a colleague."

Annable released a copy of the letter, dated Feb. 1, to The Buffalo News last week.

"For the past 23 years, I have been proud to wear the uniform of the Niagara County Sheriff's Department," Annable wrote. "Lately, however, the department seems to be headed in the wrong direction. The emphasis seems to be shifting from serving the citizens of Niagara County to pursuing other agendas."

"The hiring of the Niagara County Democratic Party chairman in our Law Enforcement Academy, for instance, has politicized the department," Annable wrote. "I believe we need to once again put people before politics."

He was referring to Nicholas J. Forster, a corrections officer Beilein assigned to the academy in 1998 after County Legislature Republicans ousted him from his former county job as STOP-DWI coordinator.

"He's not qualified as a police officer. He basically does paperwork," Annable said of Forster. "That's a full salary that is wasted. There's already a training officer for the jail."

"The corrections side is as important as the law enforcement side," Beilein said. "I would daresay (Forster) has as much background in corrections as Ross does in public relations."

Beilein was referring to the community services job Annable has held in the Sheriff's Department for five years. "He's been out in the public telling the public what a good job we do," Beilein said.

Annable said his job is to promote all crime prevention programs except Drug Abuse Resistance Education. Before that, he was a patrol deputy for 12 years and a patrol sergeant for six years.

"Patrol is the backbone of the department," Annable said. He said that when he joined in 1978, 48 deputies had patrol assignments, compared with 43 today.

"In four more years, we might fall further behind," he said, adding that since the county expanded its jail, the jail budget has grown and he believes the patrol budget has slipped relatively.

"Since 1997, we've invested $2.5 million in computer equipment," Beilein noted. "The whole structure is to make the patrolmen more efficient."

The incumbent also said the department has hired 12 civilian dispatchers to free deputies, who used to man the radio for eight hours, for patrol work. "Instead of a loss of five, there's been a net gain of seven," Beilein said.

Annable said he is not worried about retribution at work.

"That's not me," Beilein said of reprisal. "I expect a spirited campaign but an issue-oriented one."

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