TALLAHASSEE – Voters in Leon County have four men, each with over 20 years in law enforcement experience, from which to choose for Sheriff. All have stepped up, out of a sense of concern over recent violent crime statistics and what they feel is a call to serve.
Former Leon and Gadsden County Sheriff’s deputy Tommy Mills, running with no party affiliation (NPA), wants to be an Andy Griffith type of sheriff and wants to return the county to a time when the community sees a deputy as “Officer Friendly,” not some sinister figure that causes fear and distrust in children.
“It’s sad when the children don’t know the officers, when we walk in a room and children scream,” he said. “I want to put law enforcement back into the community and have positive interaction with that community.”
A Leon County Sheriff’s deputy for 24 years, he takes the law enforcement motto, “Protect and Serve” very seriously. “I’m a servant. I didn’t seek this vocation. It sought me. As a Christian, I believe in service above all else.”
The Republican candidate Charlie Strickland is a former Sheriff’s lieutenant with 25 years experience and is the owner of Talon Range. He believes his business acumen, combined with his law enforcement service and passion make him the best pick for Sheriff.
He advocates for more officers on the street, combined with community outreach. He supports models like Chicago CURE, which treats crime like a health issue. He said CURE was a success until funding was pulled. He said those against it don’t understand it. When questioned about using a crime model from a city with the nation’s highest violent crime rate, he said, “If you want to learn how to fight a war, you go to Afghanistan.”
In his approach to policing, he wants the same officers working the same streets every day. He wants to recruit a diverse group of officers by helping at-risk kids find a path to success, through serving in law enforcement.
The Democrat candidate, former Tallahassee Police Chief Walt McNeil, said he feels he owes it to the community to do something about its crime problem.
McNeil, while serving as Tallahassee Police Chief, was tapped by Governor Crist to lead the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and, then was appointed as the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections and is the president of the International Association of Police Chiefs.
He said, “Working with the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) for 28 years, I became one of the best trained law enforcement leaders in the country. My organizational skills, leadership skills, were all born from what the citizens invested in me and I would be remiss if I didn’t offer myself up to serve my community.”
He supports a pro-active way of dealing with crime, sometimes called predictive policing. “We focus on individuals who are known to be involved in crime and make sure we interdict with them rather than waiting for the crime to occur,” McNeil said.
He said the current sheriff’s office can’t to do that now because they haven’t kept up with technology and other strategies related to law enforcement. McNeil is also the former police chief of Quincy and says his approach can be applied without extravagant spending for technology.
McNeil said he wants to transform the Leon County Sheriff’s Office from what some call a “Good ‘Ole Boys Club” into a world-class law enforcement agency.
Incumbent Sheriff Mike Wood, (NPA) said his appointment to sheriff following the death of Sheriff Larry Campbell, opened his eyes to the demands of being sheriff and he has a passion for it.
While he admits to learning a lot from Campbell he is quick to point out, with Wood as sheriff, it won’t be more of the same.
He said he is a good collaborator and works well with everybody. He has worked hand-in-hand with TPD Police Chief Mike DeLeo, the Florida State University and the Florida A&M police chiefs.
“It’s about relationships. Historically, the sheriff’s office and police department have had a bit of a roller coaster ride, but I think I am the guy to stabilize that in a very good place and maintain a positive relationship with all of local law enforcement.”
He said violent crime is down 13 percent over this time last year and he is excited about the way things are going.
Wood said technology is very important but is not the only path to success. “I recognize we are people dealing with people and that really matters, so training is a big issue for us as well,” Wood said.
He said he does not support the Chicago CURE model, primarily because of its high costs. However he does see the value of partnering with social service agencies and local government.
“There are many ways to combat violence that doesn’t always have to be a person in a uniform with a gun on,” Wood said.