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Richard “Dick” Dobson, a retired lieutenant and watch commander in the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, became the first official challenger to Sheriff Timothy B. Howard Friday with a barrage of criticism aimed at the incumbent Republican.

Dobson, 68, gathered supporters to his Niagara Street headquarters to launch an effort he said will culminate a 32-year career in the Sheriff’s Office. He cited Howard’s “obstructionist policies” and a string of prisoner deaths and escapes as his prime motivation for entering the race.

He specifically noted the 2006 escape of Ralph “Bucky” Phillips from the Erie County Holding Center under Howard, and Phillips’ subsequent murder of a state trooper as key reasons for his entry into the race – calling it “dangerous conduct.”

“As a direct result of such actions, there have been an inordinate number of prison escapes and deaths within the Holding Center and resultant lawsuits, along with the tragic murder of a New York State trooper and the wounding of another,” Dobson said. “Further, the fact that advancement within the department has become a matter of favored choosing, over civil service assessment, has cumulatively led to a significant morale problem with the ranks of … deputies.”

He added it is now time “to restore the Erie County Sheriff’s Department to the effective and respected law enforcement agency that it can and should be.”

Dobson’s son, Trooper Kevin P. Dobson Sr., was killed in 2011 when he was struck by a vehicle as he was standing near another vehicle he had stopped on the shoulder of the Youngmann Highway in the Town of Tonawanda.

Lt. Bert Dunn, another veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, also is expected to enter the race. He is viewed as a favorite of the Democratic Party organization headed by Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner. Deputy Timothy Higgins also has been mentioned as a candidate.

But Dobson enters without any discernible political backing and is emphasizing that he is the only candidate for sheriff in recent history to have worked his way through the ranks of the Sheriff’s Office exclusively.

He immediately jumped into the fray by taking note of two recent incidents in the Erie County Holding Center that injured four deputies.

“They put their lives on the line every day for the safety of the citizens of Erie County,” he said of the injured deputies. “Now it’s time to start putting policies into effect that will more closely protect our deputies in return.”

Dobson is an Air Force veteran who began his career as a deputy, and later became sergeant, lieutenant and watch commander. While in the Sheriff’s Office, he was a member of the Federal Drug Task Force.

After retirement, he worked as a supervisory officer with the United Nations Peacekeeping forces. He also became involved with a number of not-for-profit, veterans and police organizations.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com