Monroe County Probation officer Mike Stevens and Supervisor Todd Wersinger have more than 20 years experience between them. On Monday, camerawoman Helen Moore and I put on bulletproof vests and went along to find out what they do everyday at a job people don't seem to know a lot, or have misconceptions, about.
"This is a person on probation with me. Specifically, I deal with felony DWI convictions," Stevens said.
Stevens needed to check on one of his probationers who recently moved. He came to do a walk through his house and have him blow into an alco-sensor.
His probationer is a vet who suffered a brain injury from an IED explosion in Iraq, came back home and got two DWIs. He was sentenced to five years probation. He's gotten treatment and never re-offended.
"Unfortunately, the public hears more about offenders on probation or parole that are non-compliant and not cooperative and committing new crimes than those success stories. The truth of the matter is the success stories are more often than not," Stevens said.
Monroe County Chief Probation Officer Bob Burns credits a lot of those success stories to the 150 probation officers out on the streets every day and night checking on the more than 6,200 people on probation across the county. They're making sure those who have been sentenced to probation live where they say they live, have no weapons in the home, no drugs and in some cases, no alcohol. Most are surprise visits.
"We are not police officers but very similar. We are not therapists or counselors, but very similar. We are not teachers, but our work certainly involves teaching. We have a dual role. We are New York State peace officers so we have an obligation to enforce orders of the court, to enforce New York State law. That's why our officers have the ability to make arrests, to search and seize property and so on, but we are also obliged to do our best to change criminal thinking," Burns said.
That means that Todd and Mike, who have backgrounds in social work and sociology, will often connect their probationers with social services, make sure they're getting drug and alcohol treatment and like with this other probationer we met, encourage them on job searches and education.
The Probation office here has never had an incident where anyone was seriously injured, but this weekend marks the second close call in just months. Safety is always top of mind.
"I would find it hard to believe that they were specifically targeted, but it speaks to the danger that's out there," Wersinger said.
Burns says we don't of course imprison everyone who's been arrested, and not everyone requires being behind bars. That's why he says the quiet and behind-the-scenes work these probation officers do everyday is absolutely necessary for a safe society.
"We're in the business of redemption. We're trying to work with people to address issues that got them to where they are. We want them to succeed," said Wersinger.