CLEARWATER –– Assistant Pinellas County administrator John Bennett left his position Thursday to return to his passion: law enforcement.
Bennett, who oversaw emergency management, accepted a position NC4, a California-based firm that provides such services as cyber threat intelligence, emergency management and risk management for law enforcement agencies and Fortune 500 companies.
"It's just heartfelt passion," said Bennett, 54, who retired in early 2015 as an assistant Tampa police chief. "I've done this for 35 years."
During Bennett's 30 months in Pinellas County, he helped lead the roll out of a new app, Ready Pinellas, that allows residents to get evacuation information and storm updates on cellular devices. When Hurricane Irma hit Florida in September, Bennett worked around the clock with county administrator Mark Woodard and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to protect residents.
In July 2015, Woodard tapped Bennett to oversee public health, safety and welfare. That included the county's 911 center, public safety radio and technology, ambulance billing and financial services, emergency management, emergency medical services and fire administration, human services, veteran services, animal services and justice and consumer services.
"I feel like it's in a good spot," Bennett said about the county departments. "They have really good directors."
Commissioner Charlie Justice praised Bennett for helping repair relationships with city officials over paramedic services.
"He's a pro's pro," Justice said. "I've never heard anybody say a bad word about John Bennett."
Bennett has a bachelor's degree in criminology from St. Leo University and a master's in homeland security and defense from the Naval Postgraduate School. He also is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
In Tampa, Bennett worked his way up from street cop — doing stints on homicide and as a field training officer — to supervisor of the SWAT team, the chief's executive officer and major overseeing District II. In 2009, when Jane Castor became the police chief, she appointed Bennett as her second-in-command.
He is credited with changing the way the department handles security at large events like Gasparilla and Super Bowl games, and he was praised nationally for his efforts in keeping the peace during the Republican National Convention in 2012, during which there were only a handful of convention-related arrests.
When Bennett retired in February 2015, Castor called him "my own personal superhero."
His resignation letter said he was "ever grateful" for his first job 35 years ago as a groundskeeper at a Pinellas County park. But after working for taxpayers, Bennett said he could not pass up the opportunity to "pay forward a specific type of experience to prevent victims, elevate officer safety and protect the innocent.
He carries a reputation of trying to figure out ways to use technology to make security efforts and crime fighting more efficient. The new position will allow him to work again with law enforcement in an era when many police agencies struggle to connect with communities, Bennett said.
"That's what my focus is on," Bennett said. "I have a lot that I can offer."
Information from Times files was used in this report.
Contact Mark Puente at email@example.com or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente