Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen O'Neill Guided by a Sense of Fairness, Family and Community

1/25/18, by Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen O'Neill


"Home" has a special meaning for Sheriff Colleen O'Neill. Home is Jefferson County, 1,293 square miles located in the northern tier of the state at the junction of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. It borders the Province of Ontario, Canada, includes the City of Watertown, as well as some of the state's best farmland, apples, and grapes, and is home to Fort Drum, which is the largest Army installation in the Northeast. 

Home is also the 175 year-old stone house where three generations of Sheriff O'Neill's family have lived, and where she now lives with her four dogs. It's where her mother still grows endless rows of flowers and plants. Home is the County she grew up in, where she attended school and has made countless friends.

"My mother grew up in Jefferson County, but my father is from Staten Island," said Sheriff O'Neill. "He was stationed here and experiencing a bit of culture shock when he first met my mother."

The O'Neill family is very close.

"My mom and younger brother and sister and I all live within 10 miles of each other, and my older brother who is retired from State Corrections only lives 45 minutes away," said Sheriff O'Neill, who is the second oldest.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office employs 150 people, including Corrections, Civil and Patrol. There are 40 deputies and detectives.

The first Sheriff O'Neill in Jefferson County was Sheriff Alfred P. O'Neill, who is Colleen's father. He served as Sheriff from 1977-1985 and is lauded as an accomplished leader who commanded people not in a harsh or loud way, but rather through confident actions and manners. He had expectations of honesty and integrity for himself, the Sheriff’s Department and the O'Neill family.

"My father was my hero. I loved everything about him," said Sheriff O'Neill. "People had great respect for him and he was the definition of integrity—steady and present, but also so personable and funny. About 15 years ago, we went on a trip to Ireland together, where he'd laugh and say, 'You can't swing a dead cat without hitting an O'Neill in Ireland."

Sheriff O'Neill senior passed away unexpectedly in February 2015, at the age of 82, just one month after getting the chance to see his daughter take the oath of Sheriff. To this day, Sheriff Colleen O'Neill says that it's one of her greatest fears to think that she could disappoint him.

"The day my father died, we were in the hospital and he was talking to me about accreditation for the Sheriff's Office," said Sheriff O'Neill. "We don't have it yet, but we're working towards it."

When Sheriff O'Neill took office in January 2015, she became one of only a handful of second-generation New York State Sheriffs, and made history as New York State's first female Sheriff.

Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen O'Neill Guided by a Sense of Fairness, Family and Community