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22 new sheriffs take "Being A Sheriff 101'

The newly elected lawmen learn the job in a free and voluntary five-day course.

The group included career cops, lawyers, even a chiropractor. And they were all in Tallahassee recently for a single purpose _ to learn how to be sheriff.

The state's 22 newly elected sheriffs took a free and voluntary five-day Florida Sheriff's Association course earlier this month.

The school, called the Florida Sheriff's Basic Institute, has been available to new sheriffs since the 1960s, and no one has ever missed a class.

Association spokesman Tom Berlinger likes to describe it as "Being a Sheriff 101."

While the average person may think being a sheriff mostly entails catching bad guys, Berlinger said that's only a small part of the job. Florida sheriffs are responsible for running jails, providing Circuit Court bailiffs, delivering warrants and serving civil papers such as lawsuits, summonses and subpoenas.

Palm Beach County's new sheriff, 58-year-old Ed Bieluch, a career officer with 27 years at the Sheriff's Office, takes his first leap into public office on Tuesday as head of an organization with a $224-million annual budget.

In Florida, the 67 sheriffs' departments range in size from 20 employees to 3,000. Bieluch, who defeated Republican incumbent Bob Neumann on Nov. 7, will be heading up one of the state's largest.

A daunting task, but Bieluch said the course helped prepare him for the job.

"There were a lot of topics I was not familiar with, things I would not have thought of," Bieluch said. "There was so much to do and so much to learn."

Bieluch said the experience allowed him to get to know his new colleagues as well as to network with about 30 current sheriffs who were there to share their experience.

"(The sheriffs) were there in many respects to be mentors, to set an example," Berlinger said.

The association's crash course included seminars on legislative affairs, labor law, corrections, budgets, lawsuits, public records and ethics.

"I went from being so excited to sometimes being a little overwhelmed by it," Bieluch said.

Berlinger said they've put an emphasis on ethics in recent years, in part because five Florida sheriffs have gone to prison in the past 12 years.

The big concerns this year were dealing with the transition and handling the typical deluge of lawsuits filed against the sheriff, Berlinger said.

"If a deputy shoots a bystander by accident, it's as if the sheriff himself shot the weapon," he said. "The law says the sheriff himself took that action."

Of the 22 new sheriffs this year _ all of them men _ 14 ousted incumbents, while the other eight replaced officeholders who retired, Berlinger said.

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