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New undersheriff has decades of experience

Richard Telford began his tenure as Chautauqua County’s new undersheriff in a “whirlwind.”

That’s because his first day on the job as the No. 2 person in the Sheriff’s Office coincided with the discovery of two sets of human remains off a trail in the town of Portland. The find has helped bring some closure for one family while officials are awaiting further tests to determine the identity of a person likely there for decades.

For Telford, having great staff in place made the transition to undersheriff an easier one during a high-profile moment. “There’s been a lot of moving parts but I’m happy how things have gone in the last two weeks,” he said in an interview this week.

A 1988 graduate of Jamestown High School, Telford studied criminal justice at Jamestown Community College. He said his path toward law enforcement wasn’t so evident at first.

“In all honesty, I was going to JCC as an undecided student,” Telford said. “When I applied to the Sheriff’s Academy I really didn’t have an eye on anything; I really didn’t know what was involved.”

That changed once he was at the academy.

“As I got in, it really appealed to me, the history of law enforcement and all the different types of instruction as they went into it,” he said. “I truly enjoyed it.”

Upon graduating from the Sheriff’s Academy, Telford briefly worked part-time for the Ellicott Police Department before being hired full-time in April 1991 with the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office. Being a deputy allowed him to see different parts of the county.

“It was a huge learning experience,” Telford said. “Even though I was born and raised in Jamestown, I wasn’t really familiar with the rest of the county. That was a real learning experience.”

Asked of a moment that stood out in his early days as a sheriff’s deputy, Telford recounted the time he responded to a domestic dispute near the village of Brocton. He helped transport two young kids to a nearby substation to await a domestic violence advocate.

“I remember they heard a car in the parking lot and wondered if it was their father coming for them,” Telford said. “You just hope that you do something good — in that case, getting them out of that situation. It was also about being able to comfort the kids.”

About 12 years into his career, Telford was promoted to sergeant where he oversaw the county’s 911 enter. It was around that time the county had taken over handling police and fire dispatch for the city of Jamestown.

“One of my big tasks was moving,” he said. “The Sheriff’s Office had their (dispatch center) in Mayville and the Jamestown Police Department had theirs at city hall. (Then) Sheriff Gerace wanted them consolidated so all dispatch was out of Mayville.”

“Overall,” he added, “it made it easier. There was concern over dispatchers being in Mayville and if it could run smoothly.”

Within a few months of consolidating dispatch, the system was put to the test when a major commercial structure fire broke out in Jamestown. “That was our true test that came out of that,” Telford said. “It showed we could dispatch out of one place.”

Telford eventually became a lieutenant with the Sheriff’s Office and later supervisor for court security. He also got involved with the department’s fire investigation team, a crew comprised of the Sheriff’s Office and fire service that responds to a variety of fires in the county to help determine a cause.

“It was something that always intrigued me,” he said of fire investigations.

Since there was no supervisor of the team at the time, Telford took on the role. He learned a lot about fires early on.

“It’s very interesting, the training and certification,” he said. “When I first got on (the team) you’d look at a burned out house and think there’s no way we can tell what started it. It’s amazing and part of why I like it. You can have a burned out house and go through the steps and narrow it down within a couple of hours on what started it.”

Telford has seen a lot going to dozens of fire scenes each year. Some stand out more than others. He recalled, early on while with the county Fire Investigation Team a blaze that killed two young boys and another one that killed a young Amish child.

“Those calls and cases, you go home afterward, I used to hug my kids extra,” Telford said. “Now they’re a phone call away — just checking in and tell them you love them.”

In January 2020, Telford attended the FBI National Academy, a 10-week program for U.S. and international law enforcement managers that provides coursework in intelligence theory, terrorism and terrorist mindsets, management science, law, behavioral science, law enforcement communication, and forensic science. Telford, Sheriff James Quattrone and Capt. David Bentley have graduated from the academy.

“I am very proud of this training as this academy is limited to a very small percentage of law enforcement officers around the world,” he said.

When Quattrone became sheriff in 2019, Telford was appointed captain at the department. Quattrone approached Telford when Undersheriff Darryl Braley announced he was retiring in September.

“Honestly, it was never necessarily a goal,” he said. “It really hasn’t sunk in yet.”

In the current role, he is in charge of jail operations as well as helping with the budget and financial operations and personnel issues.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said. “The very first day on the job we discovered the two bodies. … We have a great support staff and I was able to sit back and watch it unfold.”

Quattrone noted Telford’s wealth of experience with the department.

“Undersheriff Telford had worked in various areas of the Sheriff’s Office and brings his experience and training,” he said. “He has worked closely with the fire service and communications division and has a great understanding of both.

“Undersheriff Telford is well respected throughout the agency, the law enforcement community and fire service.”

Telford lives in Sinclairville with his wife, Amanda. He has two children, Katelynn and Andrew, and a stepson, Alex.

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