A look at the candidates for Pinellas Sheriff

11/01/12 Samuel Johnson
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Next Tuesday Pinellas County will be choosing a sheriff. The race is between Democrat Scott Swope, incumbent Republican Bob Gualtieri and write in candidate Greg Pound. Candidates agree on efficiency measures. They differ only on which ones to implement.

During a town hall meeting last month in Saint Petersburg candidate Scott Swope said sheriff Bob Gualtieri has the wrong priority. He called it “mismanagement”. To insure public safety Swope would install better dui enforcement and serve the tens of thousands of outstanding felony warrant. Swope said money is not the issue.

“These are all vital public safety programs that what I would do as sheriff is reinstate those programs. There’s plenty of money to reinstate those programs. My opponent managed to find five million dollars a couple of months ago to give bonuses to folks at the sheriff’s office and yet he says there’s no money to reinstate these programs. It’s just wrong. There’s money there. I would reinstate these vital public safety programs.”

Gualtieri has been sheriff since November 2011. In that time he has cut jobs and programs due to budgetary restraints. Gualtieri didn’t attend the town hall but in a telephone interview, Gualtieri said governmental mergers and the business community will provide assistance.

“We need to continue to find ways to save money and I think the future of that is through consolidations. Make consolidations with other governmental entities; look at outsourcing where it’s appropriate and one of those is at the jail. We’ve looked at it before and I think we need to look at it again as far as jail medical is concerned and seeing on a contract basis because we employ our own doctors and nurses and other practitioners and see if there’s any opportunity for savings there. I see that as the future as far as looking at consolidations and perhaps outsourcing more to the private sector.”

A concern of both the community and the sheriff is the focus on lessening repeat offenders. Presently the sheriff’s office works with kids in order to stave off recidivism. Gualtieri said responding to health issues and teaching life skills can help.

“Mental health services, substance abuse, alcohol, and importantly job skills and life skills so that when the people get out, they have different tools in their tool box to keep them from reoffending. If all we do is lock people up and then they go back to the same community with the same influences that are bad and no additional tools or abilities, they’re going to go right back to what they did so we need to break that cycle.”

Swope agrees that bolstering life skills will aid in curtailing recidivism. Swope said these jail programs are necessary public safety programs.

“It is very important to try to prevent people who get out of jail from doing things that put them back in jail. If these people who are getting out of jail don’t have the life skills, and don’t have a GED, or any way to make a living then what’s going to end up happening is they’re going to commit more crimes. So even though those programs cost money, I view them as very important public safety programs because it helps prevent these people from coming back in.”

Another topic discussed was Law enforcement ethics and protection of civil liberties. Write in candidate Greg Pound accused both Swope and Gualtieri of political deception.

“This stuff is illegal what we got going on and we need people who are going to represent the law, truth. The key to the knowledge of law is truth and it never changes and it applies to everyone. These guys are not operating upon the law of truth.”

The sheriff’s office has been accused of illegally gathering evidence in an attempt to nab marijuana growers. Swope said this is a mismanagement of resources and a violation of civil liberties. He said it is also the wrong focus.

“The sheriff’s office, drug enforcement policy should be dangerous drugs, the pill mills, prescription drug problems that we’re having is a huge epidemic. We also have real problems with other dangerous drugs like crack cocaine, heroine, crystal meth. Those are the kinds of drugs that I would direct the narcotics division to focus on. I certainly would no be putting a video camera across the street from a legal business like simply hydroponics and just hoping I’m going to catch people who are growing marijuana.”

Gualtieri still supports the sting operation. He refuted the claim that the illegal activity is systemic.

“From time to time you’re going to have people that do bad things and that they fall off the track. It happens and it’s about how you deal with it and I’ve delt with it effectively. Unfortunately I had to make some hard decisions this year and fire some people. This isn’t widespread, this is a few people that did some things they shouldn’t have done and I held them accountable for it and fired them.”

Early voting continues until Saturday. The election is Tuesday.

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