A tireless servant to his country and his community, longtime Erie County Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins has dedicated a lifetime to Western New York and now local leaders are pushing to dedicate a local landmark in his honor. Federal, State, County and City representatives are teaming up to name the newly reconstructed Bailey Bridges and adjacent park, located in Sheriff Higgins’ South Buffalo neighborhood, after the United States Marine Corps veteran.
“With 42 years of law enforcement experience, including twelve years as Sheriff of Erie County, Tom Higgins is the region’s most accomplished law enforcement leader of his generation,” said Congressman Brian Higgins. “This tribute provides a lasting reminder of the Sheriff’s commitment to serve.”
“As a Korean War veteran and former Erie County Sheriff, Tom Higgins has courageously served our country and our community for decades, and continues to be a strong, respected leader throughout his retirement,” said Senator Tim Kennedy. “It is only fitting that we dedicate these bridges and park in honor of a Western New York icon, who continues to inspire new generations to dedicate themselves to public service and bettering our great city. It is people like Tom who earn Buffalo the nickname the City of Good Neighbors, and who make our community a better place to grow, live, and raise families.”
Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke, a sponsor of the County resolution advancing the effort, said, “Tom Higgins is a friend to many, a combat veteran, and one of the best public servants this community has ever known. It is my honor and privilege to dedicate this park in his name.”
Buffalo Common Councilmember Richard Fontana said, “Sheriff Higgins’ service and commitment to Western New York has never wavered. I am proud to support the Bailey bridge naming in honor of a true American, Sheriff Higgins.
“Sheriff Thomas Higgins epitomizes the term public servant,” said Buffalo Common Councilmember Chris Scanlon. “He’s worn countless hats: most notably, serving his country during the Korean War, serving the people of this great city as a lieutenant in the Buffalo Police Department and serving the whole of Erie County as Sheriff. No matter which position he has served in, Tom Higgins has always treated all people with dignity and respect, a practice needed in this world now more than ever. Naming the bridges on Bailey Avenue after the Sheriff will ensure that his legacy of service to his country, county, city and fellow human beings will be remembered for years to come.”
Born in 1930, Sheriff Higgins began a three-year tour of duty with the United States Marine Corps at age 21, engaging in combat during the Korean War, serving in the 1st Marine Division, 11th Regiment until his honorable discharge in 1954.
Sheriff Higgins earned an Associate Degree from Erie Community College, a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Buffalo State College and a Master’s Degree in History from the University at Buffalo. He returned to the classroom again and again to lead lectures at local high schools, colleges and the Central Police Services Academy.
His public safety career began in the Buffalo Police Department where he worked for twenty-one years. As a Buffalo Police Officer, Higgins demonstrated leadership early, working as a precinct level detective, earning the rank of Lieutenant and serving as a mentor to the next generation of recruits as director of the Buffalo Police Academy.
In 1977, Sheriff Higgins began a more than two-decade long career with the Erie County Sheriff’s Department. As the Undersheriff, he collaborated with community organizations to develop the “First Time/Last Time” program aimed at reducing recidivism rates among young adults and organized educational programs through a partnership between the Sheriff’s Department, City of Buffalo and New York State Department of Education to help detainees earn their GED.
Higgins was first elected by residents to serve as Erie County Sheriff in 1985 and continued in that role for 12 years. He established the Erie County Law Enforcement Foundation to assist local public safety departments with the purchase of specialized training and equipment. He also co-founded and chaired the New York State Sheriff’s Association Scholarship Fund.
Throughout his life, Sheriff Higgins dedicated his time and energy to dozens of veteran, civic and public safety organizations, serving as President of the Buffalo Naval and Military Park Board of Directors, a member of the Buffalo Commission on Citizen’s Rights and Community Relations, President of the Buffalo State College Alumni Association and Chairman of the Korean War Memorial Committee.
Constructed the same year as Sheriff Higgins’ birth, the 88-year old Bailey Bridges, which cross Cazenovia Creek and the Buffalo River, recently underwent a $22 million reconstruction. The rehab was supported by federal, state and city funding. At the same time, greenspace enhancements adjacent to the bridges and waterways are underway, transforming the public space into a new Erie County park.
The Buffalo Common Council and Erie County Legislature are expected to advance resolutions seeking to officially designate the bridges and park as the Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins Bridges and Park.