In less than 16 months, Chris Nocco, the sheriff of Pasco County, has gone from Chris Who to the Chris Wow. Gov. Rick Scott appointed Nocco, 36, as sheriff in spring 2011 to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Bob White.
Nocco, despite his relative youth and limited law enforcement resume, has emerged as the strongest candidate in the three-person Republican primary and can point to a long list of accomplishments in a short period of time as legitimate reasons for GOP voters to keep him in office. He is opposed by two former Sheriff's Office employees: Maurice Radford and Roger Fortney.
Radford, 50, was third in command at the Sheriff's Office for 10 years and was major in charge of operations before announcing his retirement five months after Nocco was sworn in as sheriff.
A technocrat who can discuss law enforcement software needs at length, Radford fails to articulate a vision for Pasco law enforcement or its top agency. He is critical of Nocco's inexperience, the politically motivated budget requests of White, and the incumbent's marketing of intelligence-led policing that Radford characterized as traditional proactive police work simply repackaged under a new name.
What Radford doesn't say is why he would be an upgrade. Nor does Roger Fortney, 59, who retired as a Hernando Sheriff's Office detention deputy to run for sheriff. Fortney spent most of his career as a front-line officer in Pasco, but has little supervisory experience. He focuses his criticism on the attributes displayed by White — bickering with commissioners over budgets — and is slow to recognize Nocco's more collaborative style. Fortney's platform targets traffic violators, prostitution and drug offenses, but doesn't offer a big-picture look at combatting crime.
Nocco, meanwhile, put a more serious focus on pro-active law enforcement and in securing new resources — both local and state dollars — for combatting prescription drug abuse. He also admits police work alone is not the answer to deterring crime and advocates a more holistic approach including stepped up drug counseling opportunities for jail inmates and better crime-prevention communication with the public. Instead of turf battles with other agencies or commissioners, Nocco offers cooperation. The relatively painless budget negotiations with the county and a merged SWAT team shared with the city of New Port Richey are just some of the results.
His opponents can label him too green or too political for the job of Pasco County sheriff, but in the Republican primary, Nocco is the best choice. The winner faces Democrat Kim Bogart in November. Republicans seeking their strongest candidate should pick Sheriff Chris Nocco in the Aug. 14 primary.