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March 10, 2006

Special Services Unit Handles Oswego County Probation Department’s Toughest Cases

OSWEGO -- At any given time there are about 1,000 people who are on probation in Oswego County. Most of them are cooperative. They want to complete their sentences and avoid being sent to jail.

“Offenders who are on probation are required to undergo counseling, get an education, get a job and maintain employment, and repay their victims,” said Barbara Schuler, director of the Oswego County Probation Department. “Nearly all of them, about 98 percent, successfully complete the terms of their sentence.”

However, some offenders require more specialized supervision. For the past few years, a special unit of the probation department has handled the most dangerous cases. The six officers in the special services unit execute arrest warrants, transport probationers from jail to court appearances, and conduct “warrant sweeps,” organized searches for probation violators.

Their presence has made a big difference in how probation violators are handled in Oswego County.

“There is a big improvement in the level of community protection and in holding offenders accountable for their behavior,” said County Legislator Tom Bullard, chairman of the Legislature’s Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee. “Since the unit was organized in 2002, the Probation Department has executed nearly 150 outstanding warrants on probation violators and made more than 1,000 unannounced home visits.”

In addition to Legislator Bullard (District 14, Scriba), the public safety committee includes legislators Clayton Brewer (District 24, Fulton), vice chairman; James Bryant (District 5, Constantia); Arthur Gearsbeck (District 6, West Monroe); Leonard Ponzi (District 17, Oswego); Milferd Potter (District 2, Orwell); and Paul Santore (District 16, Oswego).

The six probation officers in the special services unit are highly trained in weapons and defensive tactics.

Supervised by Senior Probation Officer Cheri Czirr, the unit is authorized to carry guns, use pepper spray and batons, and has received specialized training in 10 different areas. They are required to re-qualify with firearms twice a year and pass an annual physical fitness test.

Along with Officer Czirr, the team includes Probation Officers D. Michael Richmond, Jeff Woolson, Dave Persons, Chrystal Thompson, and Shannon Perkins.

“Our unit has been together for the past five years and through the years has developed a bond, based on trust and confidence, amongst our unit members,” said Czirr. “Although we each have our own supervision style and personality, as a unit we complement each other and form a more complete and capable team. We primarily operate in teams of two and therefore, each officer must have faith in the abilities of whomever they are working with. Our newest member recently completed extensive training, and shares the enthusiasm of our team.”

The team trains with the County Sheriff’s Office, E-911, State Police, State Department of Environmental Conservation, and other law enforcement units.

Due to the nature of their jobs, members of the special services unit don’t work traditional weekday hours. They have to be willing to work early mornings and evenings, and must be able to keep up with the rigorous demands of training that the job entails.

Unannounced home visits are often part of an offender’s sentence. Probation officers look for signs of alcohol or drug abuse, Internet pornography, illegal firearms and other illegal activities. Their workload will increase as Oswego County’s specialized domestic violence courts get underway later this year.

Two recent searches led to new felony charges against convicted sex offenders. One case was prosecuted with a sentence in state prison, and charges against another violator are pending.

When someone violates a condition of their probation, the court issues a warrant for their arrest. It’s the responsibility of the special services unit to try to locate violators in Oswego County and those that have moved to adjacent counties. The department is also required to bring probation violators who are in jail to court appearances in other counties. The unit uses a specially-equipped Ford Crown Victoria, with an E-911 radio and cage, to transport offenders.

“Our probation officers are very committed to their jobs. They make our community a safer place by monitoring and supervising each person who is assigned to probation by any court in Oswego County,” said Schuler. “Those who don’t comply with the terms of their probation are held accountable.”

The Oswego County Probation Department’s special services unit consists of, from left, Senior Probation Officer Cheri Czirr, Probation Officers David Persons, D. Michael Richmond (kneeling), Jeff Woolson, Chrystal Thompson, and Shannon Perkins. All members of the unit are qualified to carry firearms and have completed extensive training.

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