BROOKSVILLE — Less than a month into his new job, Sheriff Al Nienhuis has reorganized the agency to save thousands of dollars and streamline operations.
The sheriff did not, however, demote any officers, and he called layoffs "very unlikely."
"The last thing I want to do is contribute to the unemployment that's already here," he said, referring to Hernando County's double-digit jobless rate. "It would not be a good thing to do layoffs."
Among the most significant changes, which take effect immediately: Nienhuis cut back on the agency's crime reduction system, STARCOM, and he will voluntarily forfeit the agency's state accreditation.
Giving up the once-lauded state endorsement doesn't mean the agency will relax its standards, Nienhuis said.
The move will just free up deputies for what he believes are more important duties. Up to now, one sergeant has worked full time to maintain the office's accreditation status, which demands hundreds of labor hours to manage burdensome paperwork required by the state.
"I think especially in these austere times," he said, "we can't afford to just continue that."
STARCOM, a process that uses statistics to monitor crime trends across the county, will now be reviewed by a deputy just once a month rather than every two weeks.
The two moves combined, he said, will save the agency "tens of thousands" of dollars in deputies' time that will be utilized elsewhere.
The sheriff said that to save money, he will also seek more help from community volunteers, try to expand the county's inmate work programs and extend vehicle maintenance schedules.
He has also moved some deputies into new positions, most notably making Mike Maurer, who had been the operations chief, into a position of chief deputy. Maurer will be second in command and have the rank of colonel.
In addition, Nienhuis will use more specialty officers, such as those in the marine unit, to bolster the agency's road patrol duties.
"You have to be reactive before you're proactive," Nienhuis said of his emphasis on the patrol units. "Your reactive force has to be at full strength first."
The changes were announced in a letter to all of the agency's employees dated Friday.
After former Sheriff Richard Nugent resigned to fill the 5th Congressional District seat formerly held by Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville, Gov. Charlie Crist tapped the 47-year-old Nienhuis to serve the last two years of Nugent's term.
Maurer, with the department since 1988, was Nugent's recommended pick for the position and was the applicant favored by many in the agency and the Hernando County community at large.
Despite that, Nienhuis said Maurer and the rest of his staff have made him feel welcome from the start.
"There are really good people who work at the Hernando Sheriff's Office," the former Pasco County undersheriff said. "That makes the job pleasurable."
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.