Sheriff Yessman reflects on career
SCHUYLER COUNTY--When William E. Yessman, Jr. was first elected Schuyler County Sheriff nearly 16 years ago, among the promises he made to himself was to remain sheriff for no more than four terms. After more than 36 years in law enforcement, time's almost up. He says he suspects on New Year's Day, 2022, when he wakes up and thinks about getting ready for a new year of work, he may feel more than slightly disappointed to recall he's retired.
But he can also look back at a career that's encompassed a little bit of everything, despite having served one of the smallest counties in the state with a correspondingly low crime rate. Most of the time. Schuyler County has all the same problems of a much larger municipality - though thankfully fewer of them. At the same time, in this county of 18,000, he notes he has that many people offering him suggestions, advice and criticism.
"I used to tell people I do my best business in Walmart on Sunday mornings," he says. A simple shopping excursion more often than not leads to him being recognized by several who want to bend his ear for a few minutes. Being accessible has always been important to him, he says. He's even had people knock on his door, sometimes even people who are not county residents but nonetheless want his advice.
Like most jobs, it's had its high and low points. As an officer, a K-9 handler, a deputy and finally as county sheriff, Yessman has participated in successful criminal investigations, festivals at Watkins Glen International, interaction with young people through the department's Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) programs ["If we can keep one kid from drugs, it's all worthwhile," he notes], ending meth labs, holding public meetings, dealing with accidents, drug overdoses, fights as well as more heart-wrenching tragedies like the shooting at the Schuyler County Courthouse in 1992. That last led to the sheriff's department instituting security screenings that became a model for law enforcement agencies around the county.
He's also had to deal with some lesser-known responsibilities, like grant writing. If agencies like Homeland Security underwrite the cost and maintenance of x-ray machines that examine the personal belongings of those entering county buildings and the wireless service for law enforcement personnel that turns each patrol car into a mobile office while allowing officers to communicate privately with the dispatcher, funds can be allocated to other vital areas.
But one of the things he's proudest of is maintaining a good working relationship with his deputies as well as other county agencies.
The job has not been without its humorous moments. Back when he was still a deputy, he answered almost nightly calls from an elderly woman who was convinced someone was trespassing on her property to fish in her pond. Despite his philosophy of "If you see something, say something - we'd rather answer 100 'nothing' calls than miss something," these particular repeated calls were taking a lot of his time on a regular basis. He enlisted another deputy to help, had the other man put on a bulky raincoat, and let him out at the foot of the older woman's driveway when he went to her door to answer the call. This time, of course, they did see someone at the pond with his back to the officer and the elderly woman looking out the window. When Yessman "arrested" his deputy and bundled him back in the sheriff's car, the relieved older woman told him, "I knew you'd catch him!" Yessman could truthfully assure her she'd never have a problem with this intruder again.
He also has sympathy for the people who spend time as guests of the county. "People make mistakes," he says. "Not all people in jail are bad people. I've had people who go through the system and we never see them again."
But his affection and admiration are reserved for the deputies and officers who work in law enforcement with him. "Everything [everyone does] reflects on the office. After all, we have 18,000 bosses."
Retirement will mean a chance to spend more time fishing and more time with his four grandchildren - not necessarily in that order. Ask Yessman about his grandchildren and the veteran officer quickly transforms into a delighted grandpa. "Time flies," he notes. Then, reflecting back on his years as county sheriff, he adds, "This is the best job I ever had. You truly work for the people."