Republican contenders for Suffolk County sheriff clashed over their credentials and political connections Thursday in their lone debate before the Sept 12 primary.

In a debate at News 12 Long Island, challenger Larry Zacarese, assistant chief of the Stony Brook University Police, attacked GOP designee State Sen. Phil Boyle for his lack of law enforcement experience and accepting the Conservative Party endorsement early to force GOP officials into backing him.

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There were areas of agreement between Boyle and Zacarese.

Both said they would keep politics out of the sheriff’s office, make priorities of battling opioid abuse and gangs such as MS-13, and work with immigrant communities that are vulnerable to crime and drugs.

But Zacarese, a former New York City police officer, took a swipe at Boyle for his lack of direct law enforcement experience.

Zacarese argued that, “a law enforcement background is crucial” for the sheriff’s job. He said employees of the office are looking for “a law enforcement leader” to take over.

Boyle acknowledged neither he nor Zacarese have any experience with the largest part of the sheriff’s job — managing county jails. “What you do is surround yourself with professionals, take their advice and as a leader . . . make the tough decisions,” Boyle said.

At one point, Zacarese tried to score Boyle for lacking experience running a large organization. Zacarese noted that for the past eight years, “I‘ve been in charge of a New York State accredited police agency” at Stony Brook, responsible for the safety of 50,000 people. “I have the administrative experience running [a] large organization — that’s the stark difference between us.”

Boyle replied immediately: “I’d just remind my opponent he’s the deputy chief of Stony Brook, not the chief.”