Brooklyn Boro

One-on-one with the New York City sheriff

October 27, 2022 Jacob Kaye
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Contrary to popular belief, New York City indeed has a sheriff. And yes, he has a mustache and wears a large hat. 

First created in 1626 – making it the oldest law enforcement agency in the United States – the sheriff’s office was, at one point, the only law enforcement agency in the city. It patrolled the streets, arrested people for criminal and civil improprieties, ran the city’s jail and enforced court orders. 

Nearly 500 years after its creation, its role looks quite different. 

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The sheriffs, their deputies, investigators, auditors and support staff now primarily work as the law enforcement arm of the courts. They act on court warrants and run an electronic monitoring program for defendants awaiting trial from their homes. 

They also serve as the city’s civil enforcement agency. Operating under the city’s Department of Finance, the agency conducts criminal tax investigations and boots cars whose drivers have unpaid parking tickets. 

A sign outside of the Long Island City headquarters of the New York City Sheriff’s Department. Eagle photo by Jacob Kaye

Anthony Miranda, the city’s current sheriff, was appointed by Mayor Eric Adams to serve in the role in May. 

The Fresh Meadows resident, who formerly ran for Queens borough president and City Council, recently sat down with the Eagle inside the sheriff’s headquarters in Long Island City to discuss his time on the job so far, the functions of the office, how its changed over the years and what the future holds for the centuries-old agency. 

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Eagle: What’s your impression of the job so far?

Miranda: I think this is a great place to be right now. I think it’s an agency that has such great potential. They’ve been doing a lot of good work and now they’re doing more work, and they’re getting more public recognition about what their mission is and how they interact with the community. We are revamping the image, we are revamping how we approach certain things and we are absolutely more active in the footprint of what we do and in the criminal justice footprint of how we keep our community safe. Mayor Eric Adams and Deputy Mayor Phil Banks’ mandate for inter-agency communication has been tremendous. We’re no longer operating in the silo. 

 

Eagle: While the sheriff’s office has always had its core functions – working as the enforcement arm of the courts and enforcing civil laws – it also seems to morph based on the wishes of the mayor at the time. During COVID-19, the sheriff’s office cracked down on large gatherings. Now, the sheriff’s office is cracking down on the proliferation of drivers using cars without proper license plates, otherwise known as ghost cars. How has the office changed over the years and how has it changed since you came on board?

Miranda: In 1982, I joined the police department. I knew of the sheriff’s department, but probably had little contact with them. The sheriff’s department had their operation and the police department had their operation. I don’t think I’ve witnessed too much of the crossover. But this is an entirely different reach right now. We’ve done operations, not only with the police department, but with the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, and other city agencies. We’re going out to enjoin enforcement because we’re addressing the same issues. So, we’re taking a multifaceted approach to those issues of concern right now. I think that’s been very effective.

 

Eagle: I have to imagine that when you run into people in the street, they often say, ‘I didn’t know New York City had a sheriff.’

Miranda: Yes. There’s still a lot of people who don’t even know that the sheriff’s office exists because the bigger footprint is the agency that is 32,000 strong and gets most of the attention [the NYPD]. However, our interaction has been very positive. I think people mostly know the sheriff’s department for getting involved in evictions and towing cars. The sheriff’s department stopped towing cars many years ago.

 

Eagle: Can you give us some examples of how the role of the sheriff’s office in city life has changed?

Miranda: Now, we’re involved in ghost gun operations. We’re working closely with the district attorneys’ office and are doing undercover investigations, as well. We were heavily involved in recent ghost gun seizures.

We also have our deputies assigned to six or seven different federal agencies that work within the city now, so we’re now bringing a different breath to those organizations.

Then we did the ghost vehicles, the paper plates and the speeding vehicles. We were heavily involved in that operation, filling the gap where other city agencies were limited. In the evenings, we operate ghost car operations – we receive anywhere between 50 and 100 cars in an evening operation, and we do that all over the city. 

We also are responsible for doing store inspections for illegal cigarettes, and those now also have increased activity. A lot of the marijuana seizures as well, because the same places that are selling illegal cigarettes are now also getting into selling marijuana.

 

Eagle: We’ve been seeing marijuna business pop up all around Queens but it’s a weird time for marijuna sellers. We’re in this limbo period before licenses have been distributed but it’s not illegal to consume pot. I’m sure there are some people who are confused by the current rules. The mayor has also changed his position several times about the level of enforcement he wants used on these illegal businesses. 

Miranda: Let’s be very clear – right now, it is illegal to sell any [recreational] marijuana products anywhere in New York City. It doesn’t go into effect until January, and then the state will issue licenses. We are working with them in identifying both the legal and illegal establishments, the ones that they’re planning on issuing licenses to and who they’re not. There’s an open line of communication. 

It’s been a big concern of most of our elected officials, as well as the mayor. And they are working on different strategies to address it, some of which you’ll see come up publicly in the next couple of weeks.

 

Eagle: Can you talk a little more about your work in and with the courts?

Miranda: We enforce all orders that are issued to us by the courts, which we are mandated to to carry out. That could be anything from orders of protection, to property seizures, those kinds of things. We hold public auctions for property, vehicles and businesses. If you think of the court and you say, ‘Who enforces the court’s rules?’ That’s the sheriff’s department. We also serve court papers at no cost.

 

Eagle: The city is required, by law, to close Rikers Island by 2027. There are a number of things standing in the way of that being achieved. At the top of the list though, is the jail’s growing population – which is currently around 6,000 people, or twice as large as what it will need to be when the city shifts to its borough-based jails approach. What role do you think the sheriff’s office and the electronic monitoring program will play in reaching that goal?

Miranda: We’re maxing out on what our capacity in that program was supposed to be. It was 170, but we’re at around 180 people already. We have probably another 400 people that are now being pre-qualified for the program, and more inquiries coming in. We know that that’s going to be a mainstay for us at this point. We’ve worked with both the judges and the lawyers to give them a little more time so that they’re client is compliant with the program. Where we can, we try to assist them with fulfilling their residency requirement. But electronic monitoring is entirely based on a judge’s mandate. We don’t dictate it. We do whatever is in the order. But then based on that order, we’ll put the parameters in place and the checks and balances in place to get a person in the program. 

 

Eagle: What are the most frequent law enforcement actions your office does?

Miranda: Serving orders of protection, doing mental hygiene warrants. And also the electronic monitoring program. That’s also a major project for our office and is something that’s going to only increase with time. It’s a growing program. We did presentations to judges and attorneys about the process and how to qualify people to go through electronic monitoring. We make sure that we educate them and explain that this is a pretty safe process for us and we have a lot of oversight in doing it. I think it’s turned into a program that most judges are now starting to look at, and most lawyers are also trying to get their clients into the program.

 

Eagle: There’s been recent reporting about the sheriff’s department increasing its car booting program. The program was paused during the pandemic, but now it’s back in full force.

Miranda: I don’t know that there’s been an increase in enforcement as much as working into the backlog of cases. What we tell people is the following – the Department of Finance has put payment programs in place for people to take advantage of. So, people don’t exercise all their options when they come to that office, and they panic. So, part of that process also is educating people. And you’ll see that has changed. 

But remember, these are summonses that they received because they were engaged in what we call ‘illegal or questionable activity.’ So, it doesn’t fall on any city agency as a blame. It falls on the actions of the individuals that consistently were in violation. But even in those cases, we have payment programs and they like to work with individuals. They lean over backwards to make sure they do that right.

 

Eagle: How big is your office? How many sheriff’s deputies do you have? 

Miranda: Our entire outfit is about 250 people, 150 people in uniform. We’re asking to increase our bandwidth. Even with the limited manpower that we have, the mayor has seen the abilities of the sheriff’s office in a different light. Also, that inter-agency involvement requires us to increase in size. We have a recruiting drive going on right now. This is the first time in about six or seven years that they’ve given the sheriff’s examination. So from Jan. 4th to the 24th is the first time that people are going to be able to file to take the test in years. 

 

Eagle: Across the board, city agencies have had struggles with staffing in recent years and those struggles appear to have come to a head this year. With the increase in the work your office has been tasked to do, I imagine there’s some disconnect between your manpower and the work that needs to be done. 

Miranda: I would say it differently. I’ve been in a few agencies, and I think this is a very attractive place to work at. The impact that you have on people’s lives makes a difference, and the creativity and the flexibility of the different types of jobs that we do – I think attracts people to us. That’s what we’re out there really sharing with people – ‘Hey, look at who we are, what we do and the impact that we have on people’s lives.’ It’s a great place to start your career and it’s a great place to make a career. At least 25 or 30 percent of the agency has already qualified for their retirement and they’re still working. That means that it’s somewhere that people don’t traditionally walk away from. They all believe in their job, they all believe in the impact they have, so they stay the course.

 

Eagle: The agency that’s 32,000 strong that you mention, as well as the Department of Correction, have been shedding officers. Have you seen any increase in interest from former NYPD or correctional officers wanting to work as deputies? 

Miranda: I think that this next exam will be very telling for the entire city. 

 

Eagle: In Queens specifically, the sheriff’s office has been tasked to eradicate the commercial trucks, which are often parked in the borough’s neighborhoods over night illegally. Can you tell us a little more about that operation?

Miranda: I live in Queens, so the big trucks that you see blocking your driveway and you can’t get out of your block, I’m one of those guys, I get the same complaints. Truck enforcement is something that we’ve now taken on jointly with the police department – seizing trucks, giving them notices. In fact, we’re going to be launching another operation, where they’re all going to get notices now. We’re going to give them the opportunity to move. You don’t want to hurt people doing business, so we say, ‘Here’s your warning.’ Then we’re going to register the information, document where you are in case they become chronic violators. Then at some point, we’ll issue a summons, and then we’ll tow the vehicle. But everything is a process of escalation. 

 

Eagle: What do you think the sheriff’s office will look like in the next five, ten years?

Miranda: I think the sheriff’s office will grow in terms of its personnel and the different types of investigations we get involved in. I’m sure that we’re going to be working with both city and state agencies about all these other enforcement operations that go on – you’ll be seeing many more joint operations that we’re going to be doing with other agencies, even in the coming weeks. The impact that we have is something that people didn’t realize, but they’re realizing it now. And the cooperation between the agencies is something that needs to continue, forever. We’re all operating together. That’s the kind of approach that everybody has. That kind of cooperation, I’ve never seen that. I’m glad to see it now and I’m hoping it never ends.


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