Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard could have lived quite happily a century ago. He thrives when outdoors chopping wood, riding a horse, driving his tractor.
The son of a well driller, Howard started in grape farming before getting into construction and then surveying. Now he's firmly in law enforcement -- just like three brothers, two sons and a daughter-in-law.
>PT: When the family gets together, do you talk shop?
TH: Yes, but we also play Splattball -- or cops and robbers. And before they had Splattball we used to do it with the rubber-tipped dart guns -- like a practical exercise in searching a building. It was a game, but at the same time it was a very practical game.
>PT: You're an alpha man.
TH: I could have been born 100 years ago. I like animals and the outdoors. I still cut my own firewood and give it to friends as a house-warming gift. I don't remember anything on early TV except Westerns. We didn't have horses when I was little, but our neighbors did. I'm not afraid of horses; I truly like them.
>PT: What percentage of your life has been law enforcement?
TH: I'm 59 this year, so I'd say two-thirds. Law enforcement isn't just about arresting people or writing traffic tickets or wrestling with drunk drivers. You can go be a teacher or a pilot or a captain on a vessel.
>PT: Personally, where do you think you can do better?
TH: Finding more time to be with my kids, even though they're all adults. You could say that's one of the regrets I have. I have four kids and four grandkids, and they're all in New York State.
>PT: What day forever changed your life?
TH: I don't know if it changed my life, but I did have a partner who was lost in the line of duty on a domestic complaint on Aug. 30, 1982. That was when I stopped and asked myself how much further am I going to push my luck, because there's been way too many close calls. For six months following that incident, I could remember little. Actually, I think that had something to do with me saying it's time to get off the street and look at that management role. I still draw immense pleasure from reading about the arrests our people make or the cases they solve.
>PT: What has been the biggest advancement in your field?
TH: Unquestionably DNA. In the 20th century, it was the automobile. That changed law enforcement forever. Before that, criminals would stay in their own communities, and a stranger in town was noticed by everyone.
>PT: What kind of car do you drive?
TH: A 2002 Oldsmobile SUV that was seized from a drug dealer in North Buffalo with 120,000 miles on it. I'm very happy with it. It's a personal reward of sorts. I was peripherally involved with the seizure operation. To the victors go the spoils.
>PT: Where do most of your department's resources go?
TH: Eighty-five percent of the sheriff's budget goes to housing criminals. Most other law enforcement agencies spend their budget on patrol.
>PT: Have you befriended many criminals?
TH: No, but my heart used to go out to shoplifters. You'd see these honorable people from the community, people with a good family name. It's not a life ending or a career ending thing, but for them it was the worst thing that ever happened in their life. So I would try to comfort them to some degree, but not to make them think that what they did was OK.
>PT: Were you ever on the wrong side of the law?
TH: No, but I spent a night in jail once. I was in college at Alfred State and we went to Bonaventure to watch a basketball game and we were supposed to stay in the dorm rooms, but later that night campus security told us we couldn't stay there so we went to the police station in Olean and asked them what we should do. You can sleep in the jail, they said, and we did.
>PT: What can get you flustered?
TH: Bullies -- even if they're trying to bully people to do the right thing -- and people who are deliberately rude. In both cases they are mean people. Also, people who crash lines, or who drive in the passing lane at the exact same speed as the person right next to them.