Citrus voters ushered in a new era in law enforcement Tuesday night when they chose Democrat Jeff Dawsy to take over the Sheriff's Office.
With about 55 percent of the vote, Dawsy held a commanding lead over Republican Chris Polak in a race that at one time drew 10 candidates. Dawsy and Polak each beat a number of other opponents to make it to the final step in electing the county's new sheriff.
"It feels great," said an elated Dawsy, who arrived at the supervisor of elections office late Tuesday. "I'm extremely lucky. I've got some terrific supporters and a terrific family behind me. I thank the citizens here for putting the safety of the county in my hands."
Dawsy, 40, is a former captain of the emergency operations center and has spent the bulk of his career with the Citrus Sheriff's Office. He worked through the ranks for 11 years.
Before final results came in, particularly those from the county's west side, Polak was not ready to throw in the towel.
"I know you've watched ballgames," he said Tuesday night in an interview from his home. "It's not over yet."
Dawsy beat Polak, 39, handily in nearly all the early returns. Polak's biggest victory came with absentee ballots, where he grabbed 3,363 votes to Dawsy's 3,189.
The two were vying to replace former Sheriff Charles Dean, who was at the helm of the county's largest law enforcement agency for 16 years. The sheriff serves a four-year term and earns $83,128 annually.
Both candidates said they would bring community policing to the county. Where they differ the most is in their personalities and experience.
Dawsy, who worked in private business and briefly for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, has trumpeted a proactive approach to law enforcement that includes community policing, an office of professional standards to gauge efficiency and a stronger partnership with residents through an academy and crime watch programs.
He plans to hold periodic community meetings, put more resources in the school resource officer program and develop a unit to enforce traffic laws.
He has marketed himself as a people-oriented person who could jump in and take over the Sheriff's Office because he is intimately familiar with it. He had said that he was the only law enforcement manager running for the post.
Polak, the director of courts since 1992, also worked as a Marion County sheriff's deputy, a teaching assistant and an investigator for the state attorney's office.
Polak stressed the importance of fighting the fear of crime as well as crime itself. Among his goals were to try to stay ahead of the county's population growth and to fight increased juvenile crime and traffic problems.
Only once did negative campaigning enter the race. In early October, Dawsy was the subject of an anonymous fax that called him a liar who drank excessively, cheated on his wife and promised favors to his supporters.
No one has come forward to accept responsibility for the fax. The Sheriff's Office is investigating.
_ Times staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.