Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco soundly defeated his first round of opponents Tuesday, winning 85.28 percent of the votes.
Nocco, 36, outpaced two challengers in the Republican primary — former department major Maurice Radford and retired corporal Roger Fortney — despite their criticisms that the sheriff brought more political connections than law enforcement experience to the job.
Nocco said he is thankful for the victory and said winning by such a landslide shows that citizens like the changes he has made in office.
"They love the fact that we are moving forward," Nocco said, "and they no longer want to look backward."
Nocco was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in April 2011 after former Sheriff Bob White announced his retirement. Nocco has ramped up the agency's efforts to fight the prescription drug problem, securing funding last year for 23 additional employees ranging from detectives to nurses helping inmates detox at the county jail. He launched an awareness campaign about synthetic drugs such as "Spice," and he implemented a sobriety program called Celebrate Recovery in the jail, which has a network of churches to help inmates after they are released.
Still, he came into office with about nine years of law enforcement experience — something his opponents focused on during the election. Nocco worked for agencies in Philadelphia, Fairfax, Va., and Broward County before entering politics, first as a field director for the state Republican Party and then 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 in 2009 by Sheriff White to be a captain in the agency.
In the November election, Nocco faces Democrat Kim Bogart, 60, a former captain at the Sheriff's Office who has nearly 40 years of law enforcement experience. Bogart was about 4,000 votes shy of unseating White in the 2008 election.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.