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A planned debate Wednesday among the three candidates for Erie County sheriff turned into a question-and-answer session with the Democrat in the race, Richard E. Dobson.

Sheriff Timothy B. Howard, the Republican incumbent, and third-party candidate Bert D. Dunn were no-shows for the We Are Women Warriors sponsored event at the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library, 1324 Jefferson Ave., though they both were invited, according to the organizers.

“I guess you can’t really have a debate if you only have one person but we’ll call this, for now, a forum,” said moderator Bernard A. Tolbert, retired special agent in charge of the FBI office in Buffalo and Democratic primary challenger to Mayor Byron W. Brown.

“It’s unfortunate we don’t have greater representation here. I don’t know the reasons for the other candidates not attending, but I’m not going to pass judgment on that.”

Dobson, a retired 32-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, was given 10 minutes to present his platform. For the roughly two hours that followed, he answered questions from an audience of about 60 people on issues ranging from his views on enforcing the state’s Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, or SAFE Act, to increasing staff diversity in the Sheriff’s Office, particularly on the road patrol.

“The police patrol services has approximately 134 sworn officers out on the street. … There’s one black, who is a female. I’d like to improve that. I think we should have more diversity. … But we have to have people that take the exam,” Dobson said.

He said he has been actively encouraging more young people from Buffalo’s minority communities to take the civil service exam.

“I know that I wasn’t able to go to college until I had my GI Bill. There are a lot of young men out there today who don’t have that advantage,” Dobson said.

Among his top priorities, he said, is hiring more deputies at the Holding Center to relieve pressure on an overburdened staff and to make the Holding Center safer and more secure for the inmates.

Several times, Dobson was lauded by members of the audience for participating in the event. He reassured them that, if elected Tuesday, he would make return visits to the city’s East Side communities to address concerns.

“I will have my deputies, as much as possible, out in all of the communities. I will be back here personally,” Dobson said.

To which Tolbert replied: “Folks will be expecting that you will come back. That’s a big part of what they want … that you care enough to come here … and hear their concerns and take them to heart.”

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com