Candidates for sheriff of Broward County at a recent forum agreed that politics had injected itself into the race but they plan to focus on serving the residents of the community.
In the upcoming Nov. 3, 2020 election, incumbent Gregory Tony will hear from voters for the first time, since he was appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in January. Tony announced he wanted to run for the sheriff’s job on Nov. 4.
And even though seven Democrats, two Republicans and one independent candidate have qualified to be the top cop in Broward, all eyes are on the contest between Tony and former Sheriff Scott Israel. DeSantis removed Israel amid criticism that Israel mishandled mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. DeSantis installed Tony to finish Israel’s elected term. Israel filed his papers to run in July. Both he and Tony are running as Democrats.
The candidate forum was in conjunction with the Broward Chapter of the NAACP on Thursday, Nov. 14. Five of the 10 announced candidates attended at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in downtown Fort Lauderdale. NAACP’s Marsha Ellison moderated the forum with Tony, Israel, Cpt. Al Pollock, Andrew Smalling and Willie Jones. Israel leads the field in campaign funds contributions at $104,825; Pollack is next with $58,050.
Israel tried to be reinstated to the sheriff post, taking his case to the Florida Senate. But the senators upheld DeSantis’ removal, despite a recommendation by special master Dudley Goodlette that he be reinstated.
Israel made several references to the fact that he had been ousted from office. Tony responded by saying that he was staying out of that battle and was running on what he, and his office, had done during his months of service.
“I have no interest in that battle,” said Tony. “I will give you my best. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.”
Israel said DeSantis had run on a promise to remove him from office and that the people’s vote had been “stolen” in Tallahassee but how the voters would reclaim their vote in 2020. He spoke about body cameras, the Promise program and other issues, and also how much he respected the Parkland families who had gone through so much.
“I pray every day for those poor families but they should not set the bar for what we do in Broward County,” said Israel.
Pollack said he, and his family, grew up in the community rather than being a transplant from somewhere else. He spoke about his years of experience serving in other positions with law enforcement, including chief of police, dealing with budgets and other issues.
“That’s very important,” said Pollack. “Every dollar comes from every one of you. We need leadership in the Broward Sheriff’s Office. I can do that leadership.”
Jones, who also had run for the position of Sheriff in the past, said the community needed someone to “take the politics out of policing.”
“I will not bend, and I will not break,” said Jones. “I will serve the people of Broward County and stop having the people serve the police.”
PROMISE UNDER FIRE
Most of the candidates support the Broward schools’ Promise program.
Promise stands for Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education. It is a program that has been lauded by the Obama administration. The school district was awarded $54 million in grants from the $4 billion 'Race to the Top' initiative, reports show. Law enforcement officials have complained the Promise program is too lenient and largely duplicates a civil citation program that they use for nonviolent youthful offenders. The program ended up in the crosshairs of the Parkland investigation. Confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz was referred to the program but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement could not ascertain his participation from records.
Tony said that a lot of “political rhetoric” was being associated with that program, and that the BSO couldn’t rely on one program to address certain issues.
“We can’t be complacent and happy about one single program,” said Tony.
Pollack said he said he would work with the Broward school board and the superintendent on this program and other programs.
“We have to go to them,” said Pollack. “I’m willing to cross that line and go talk to the superintendent and sit down and talk with him.”
Smalling didn’t think the Promise program went far enough to help minority kids.
“I think there is a lot of room for betterment with it,” said Smalling.
Israel said that he was a key participant in getting the Promise program implemented and remembered an incident at a school when a young person was arrested for throwing candy at another kid. During his time in office, he said he promised NAACP’s Ellison that would not happen again under his watch, and it hadn’t.
“We are talking about nonviolent offenders,” said Israel.
Jones said he had written several programs that dealt with similar issues with young people.
“Our children need an alternative to be successful not just at 8, but at the age of 18 as well,” said Jones.
Another question was about school resource officers and their training. Smalling, who used to be an SRO, said he knew what kind of pressures they were under and that there used to be programs that further tested SROs that needed to be reimplemented. Israel said that there had to be certain training for that position and also brought up former officer Scott Peterson.
“Not every mistake made by an officer has to do with training,” said Israel. “He didn’t go into that room, and it had nothing to do with training. He was scared.”
Jones also said that there had to be proper training for SROs, and the job was not for everyone. Jones said that the BSO needed to look at how they hired SROs and be more thorough about whom they hired for those jobs.
“You have to prove you have the skill sets to be there,” said Jones. “We need to prove how we hire people in the beginning.”
The candidates wrapped up their comments with closing statements. Tony asked the community to elect him for doing a good job.
“This is a very difficult time,” said Tony. “Politics is dictating our decision-making process.”
Pollack said some things worked in other communities but he knew what worked in Broward County.
“I know this county,” said Pollack. “What works north doesn’t work south. I will constantly be there for you. We will work for you and not against you. Right now, there is a problem at 2601.”
Smalling has aspired to be sheriff for about 20 years. He said he wanted to be an example for other sheriffs to follow with his working relationships within the minority communities in Broward County.
“I know there is an issue with the minority communities,” said Smalling. “I want to be the example that we can work with our minority communities.”
Israel spoke about the young man, DeLucca “Lucca” Rolle who was seen on cellphone video receiving blows from BSO deputies months ago. A press conference related to that incident had been held earlier that day with members of the NAACP, Attorney Ben Crump and various leaders within the community. Israel asked that he be re-elected to the position he had served for so many years.
“Lucca didn’t have to get beat up at Tamarac High School,” said Israel. “Your voice was stolen. I was doing everything the people elected me to do. Please re-elect me as sheriff and put me back.”
Jones spoke about how he ran for sheriff four years ago and was once again running for that seat. Jones said that the agency still was policing the way it policed back in the earlier part of the century.
“Law enforcement in this county and country is 50 years behind,” said Jones. “We can treat you any way we want until we change how we police this community. Elect me as your sheriff and I will serve you.”