Saratoga County Sheriff James D. Bowen ended his 48-year law enforcement career on Tuesday, releasing a letter thanking the people of Saratoga County for letting him serve.
Bowen leaves the county’s top law enforcement job after 41 years as sheriff, making him the longest-tenured sheriff in the state.
“Thank you for the honor and privilege to serve as your sheriff the last 41 years,” Bowen wrote in the open letter to county residents.
People who worked closely with Bowen described him as deeply dedicated to law enforcement, someone who was intimately involved in trying to solve murder cases and other major cases that came before the department.
“He is irreplaceable in terms of his vast knowledge and experience,” said District Attorney James A. Murphy III, who worked with Bowen throughout his 25 years as a prosecutor.
Bowen, 75, did not seek re-election to another four-year term. He will be succeeded by Michael H. Zurlo, a Republican who spent 32 years working in the Sheriff’s Department, rising from road patrol deputy to senior investigator before his retirement in 2010.
Zurlo took the oath of office last Sunday at Mechanicville High School and is officially sheriff as of today.
“I worked 32 years with him. He was a great teacher and mentor to me,” Zurlo said Tuesday. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. It was a great honor to work with him for 32 years.”
Bowen, who did not respond to interview requests earlier this month, was not in his office Tuesday after his letter was released.
“Your Sheriff’s Office is one of the best in the State of New York,” Bowen wrote in the letter. “The men and women of your Sheriff’s Office have the highest training and the state of the art equipment of any police agency around.”
The road patrol, corrections department, communications dispatchers, records, pistol permit and civil offices all provided outstanding service, he wrote.
“I am proud to have such professional people to work with me in running your Sheriff’s Office,” Bowen continued. “It has been a team effort all these years.”
Bowen became sheriff by appointment of Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller in 1972, following the death in office of Sheriff Lee A. Sherer. Bowen first joined the department in 1965, at a time when there were only five patrol cars, and rose quickly through the ranks to become Sherer’s undersheriff.
His tenure saw construction of a new county jail in the town of Milton and expansions of the department’s road patrol and investigations functions. Today, the Sheriff’s Department has 217 employees, with more than 100 deputies assigned to patrolling the county.
Bowen has been a colorful figure who often spoke passionately at public events. And this year he spoke out against the burdens being put on local law enforcement agencies by the NY SAFE Act gun-control law.
And even as the department’s workload grew, Bowen remained involved in every felony arrest, insisting on being notified no matter the time of day or night.
When asked about memorable cases in an April interview, Bowen cited two unsolved murders, those of Pamela DeVizzio, beaten to death after leaving a Saratoga Springs bar in 1988, and Charlton convenience store clerk Betty Conley, shot to death during an apparent late-night robbery in 1993.
Such cases “literally became part of him,” Murphy said.
“In my mind, he will always be the sheriff,” Murphy said. “He taught me a lot when I was first an assistant district attorney in 1988, and I continued to learn from him.”
Bowen’s tenure was a four-decade period during which the county’s population grew consistently, in the Northway corridor communities and elsewhere.
“When he started, there were 100,000 fewer people in the county,” Murphy said. “Now there are 100,000 more, and the crime rate is down.”
In his letter, Bowen thanked the people of Saratoga County, the men and women he worked with and two Saratoga Springs attorneys, John McMahon and John Coseo, who were his personnel attorneys and “have helped keep me on the straight and narrow with their advice.”
He also thanked his wife, Susan, and his four children, five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. He also thanked “My Lord, Jesus Christ, for giving me the strength, courage and knowledge to run your Sheriff’s Office in the best interest of the people of Saratoga County.
“God Bless the people of Saratoga County. Thank you!” he concluded.