By Jennifer L. Warren
MOUNT HOPE – Some of us can spend a lifetime trying to figure out where our passion lies and what we want to do with our lives. Bernie Rivers already had that adult puzzle solved by the fifth grade.
“I knew back then I wanted to go into law enforcement, be a New York City police officer and get the Gold Shield,” recalled Orange County Sheriff candidate Rivers about his early days growing up on Long Island. “It was the thing everyone wanted to do-either that or be a fireman- back then.”
As time moved on, that career path law enforcement ambition evolved when Rivers first sighted a State Trooper at age 12; he now aspired to join these ranks. The tail end of high school, along with his enrollment in Orange-Ulster BOCES and the life-altering, first-ever Law Enforcement class for seniors, resulted in the birth of yet another job he longed to secure: Environmental Conservation Officer. Not only did that inaugural, one year course provide a solid foundation for Rivers’ now over 40 year career in law enforcement, it also planted the very first seed for the esteemed Sheriff role, involving overseeing road control and correction deputies.
“That class really opened my eyes to other areas of law enforcement that were out there, such as being a sheriff and working for different agencies like the Department of Environmental Conservation,” explained Rivers. “It also made me realize I really wanted to be the Sheriff one day.”
Flash forward to present day, and Rivers has made those career dreams from his youth a reality. His over four decades of hard, honest work, along with an untarnished record, include 10 years as a corrections officer, along with 30 more with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, where he held a wide range of positions, including over 20 years of fieldwork as well as that on the administrative level, including; Investigator (Internal affairs), Lieutenant and Captain ranks. All the while, Rivers, who holds a BA from SUNY Empire College, was consistently engaging in part-time police work, something that remains dear to his heart and is intricately tied to his decision to run for Orange County Sheriff.
“When I made the decision to run, I realized I had been behind a desk for about seven years, and during that time, a lot was going on with bail and police reforms affecting police agencies,” said Rivers. “I never worked under the new rules and needed to find out about them first-hand.”
So, what did the 2021 retired Rivers, who currently was holding the position of a 2 Star Director of Law Enforcement with the Department of Environmental Conservation, decide to do before his official quest to become Sheriff?
“I purposely took a patrol officer’s position- something I had not done in a long time- in the Town of Goshen,” said Rivers. “I did this so I could really see how things were working now with all of the changes from a patrol level as opposed to a much more removed command one.”
Wanting to truly mine an up-close-and-personal perspective, something Rivers equates to the television show UNDERCOVER BOSS, the Orange County Sheriff candidate was intent on ensuring that he stayed abreast with all the latest policies, procedures and dynamics embedded in the system he is passionate about overseeing and leading toward optimum success.
“My main goal is to continue to build upon Sheriff Carl DuBois’ legacy and continue to bring the Sheriff’s Office into the 21st Century of policing,” said Rivers about what he intends to address. “This includes holding all members of office, regardless of rank, accountable for their decisions, as well as supporting commonsense gun control and police reform and being an advocate for women’s healthcare rights.”
As the first Democrat to run in Orange County for the position of Sheriff in 18 years, Rivers is well aware the path to victory won’t be without its challenges. However, having been a loyal, honest, fair and selfless public servant-carrying both traditional law enforcement and correctional experience- to the Orange County Community and New York State since 1981 (not to mention having the “full-circle,” comforting coincidence of having some classmates from his 1980 BOCES Law Enforcement Class give him the heads-up about the position’s opening), Rivers, one of the Founding Fathers of the NYS Police Benevolent Association (PBA), a committed union supporter and past Union President for Town of Wallkill PBA, and former fire department and ambulance corp volunteer, is confident of his abilities to get the job done well, while being respectful of the existing framework.
“For any newly elected sheriff, the biggest challenge is to have the rank and file to get the understanding, and not change what is being done,” said Rivers. “Rather use the observation period to help improve the operation of the agency; I’m not here to undo anything.” He added, “People have to also understand, the Sheriff is not a legislator; we don’t write the laws; we enforce them when they are challenged.”
It’s that very love for law enforcement that Rivers has possessed since his elementary school days that continues to drive him almost a half of a century later to remain in the field and perhaps ignite a fire for today’s youth to chase down that prized Gold Shield.
“The idea of this position really excites me because it provides the opportunity to continue using my law enforcement experience,” said Rivers. “To be able to pass that on to younger generations is special.”