Sheriff Chris Nocco cruised to victory Tuesday night, benefiting from the power of incumbency 18 months after being appointed Pasco's top cop.
Nocco, a Republican, defeated Democrat Kim Bogart, a former agency captain who was seeking the sheriff's position for the second time.
"I'm excited. Tonight was a victory for our agency, for our deputies, for all our members, and it was a sign from our citizens that they like what we've been doing for the last year and a half," Nocco, 36, said from his victory party in Trinity.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Nocco held a 19-point margin despite his youth and relative inexperience compared with Bogart, a law enforcement officer since 1975.
But of the two men's paths to this sheriff's race, one was decidedly more fortuitous.
Nocco and Bogart, 60, both served under former Sheriff Bob White. In a sweeping leadership change upon taking office in 2000, White fired Bogart and installed his own command team, then went on to win re-election two more times. He hired Nocco, a former Tallahassee legislative aide to Marco Rubio, in 2009 and promoted him to major before resigning for family reasons last year. Nocco and Bogart each applied for the vacant position, and Gov. Rick Scott appointed White's No. 2 to serve the remainder of the term.
Nocco had previously worked for law enforcement agencies in Philadelphia; Fairfax, Va., and Broward County, and was a field director for the Republican Party of Florida. He served two years as chief of staff at the Florida Highway Patrol before White brought him to Pasco.
During his tenure here, Nocco has named the prescription drug epidemic as the county's primary law enforcement challenge, saying it fuels thefts and violent crimes. He credits the use of intelligence-led policing, which focuses on gathering and sharing data to predict crimes and target offenders, with helping contain the problem. His philosophy emphasizes arrests as much as prevention, with educational seminars and Celebrate Recovery, a substance-abuse recovery program he instituted at the jail. The program networks with churches so inmates have a support system after being released.
"We're going to continue (working) on the street level, but even more so I want to keep working with the faith-based community," he said. "Education and prevention are what's going to win this battle against drugs."
Nocco, who is married with three young children, said technology upgrades and organizational improvements within the agency are also on his immediate agenda.
Bogart, now a law enforcement consultant, lost narrowly to White in 2008, when President Barack Obama's presence at the top of the ticket cut into support for Republicans at every level. But this contest wasn't close. Bogart raised about $118,000, less than half of Nocco's $281,000, the most of any local candidate.
Nocco said he had a good feeling about the outcome based on feedback from early and absentee voters. But the margin of victory was a surprise.
"It showed us that we're doing the right things and the citizens are truly behind what we're doing out there," he said.