NEW PORT RICHEY — Kim Bogart didn't waste time.
In his opening statement at a debate Thursday night at Pasco-Hernando Community College, the Democratic candidate for Pasco sheriff made jabs at Sheriff Chris Nocco's so-called inexperience and political ties, implying this job is just a stepping stone for Nocco.
"Before he came to Pasco County, he had nine jobs in 11 years, most of them which were for less than eight months," said Bogart, 60, a former captain with the Sheriff's Office. Nocco, the 36-year-old Republican candidate, was appointed sheriff in 2011 by Gov. Rick Scott when then-Sheriff Bob White retired. Nocco, a Philadelphia native, previously worked as an officer for various agencies, then as a field director for the Republican Party of Florida and as a top aide to then-House Speaker Marco Rubio. Nocco served two years as chief of staff at the Florida Highway Patrol before he was hired by the Pasco Sheriff's Office in 2009.
"He's never laid down roots for very long," said Bogart, who began his law enforcement career with Tampa police in 1975, a year before Nocco was born.
Nocco dismissed the comments and said he is committed.
"We are building a community much stronger than it was yesterday," Nocco said. "And I'm not leaving, even though other people would like to imply it — and probably would rather me do that."
Throughout the debate, Nocco spoke of what he says the agency has accomplished during his short tenure: Using a crime-fighting method called intelligence-led policing, which focuses on gathering and sharing data; making headway in the prescription pill epidemic and emerging issue of synthetic drugs; installing a substance-abuse recovery program called Celebrate Recovery at the jail, which networks with churches to support inmates after they are released; and creating a "servant" leadership structure at the agency, where leaders listen to staff and are often out in the field alongside them. Nocco spoke of his holistic approach — to be tough on criminals but also focus on education as a way to prevent crime. He said his political ties only help the county.
"Do connections in Tallahassee help the Pasco Sheriff's Office today?" Nocco asked.
He spoke of more than $1 million attained for the agency's child abuse investigation unit.
"I can call somebody up and say, 'Hey, can you help us out with this?'" Nocco said. "That's a good thing."
Nocco spoke of reducing crime and of a block party that Holiday residents threw for his deputies. Bogart said more needed to be done; that citizens don't feel safe.
"In Pasco County, you can throw a rock and hit a drug dealer," Bogart said.
Bogart and Nocco both agreed that deputies, who haven't had a raise in nearly six years because of countywide budget constraints, deserve more money. But Bogart claimed some of the dozens of members who have left for other law enforcement jobs have done so because of turmoil inside the agency.
"Everybody is not as happy as (Nocco) would like you to think," Bogart said.
Nocco said the agency, under other tenures, was "plagued" by politics, but isn't now.
"It's not there," he said.
Bogart blasted Nocco for having three employees who deal with public information. Nocco said it's necessary to get information to the community.
"One of the worst things we can do at the Sheriff's Office is have information that could help protect our citizens and not get it out there," Nocco said.
Bogart, who nearly unseated White in the 2008 election, said if elected he would give citizens "measurable results."
"I'm not just going to tell people that we are safer and say it often enough to where people believe that when, in fact, it's not really true," Bogart said.
Nocco said he has given citizens results and asked them to vote based on them — if they like the changes in the agency, if they feel it is on the right path.
"I think people can feel out there," Nocco said, "Pasco County is changing for the better."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.