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  1. Opinion

Pinellas County Sheriff: The Times Editorial Board recommendation

The sheriff leads an agency with roughly 3,000 employees and a $300 million budget.

The contest for Pinellas County sheriff is an easy call: Voters should re-elect incumbent Bob Gualtieri. He hasn’t been perfect, but he’s been on the right side of most of the important issues. He’s a strong leader, not afraid to fire rogue deputies or buck political expectations. The county is better off with Gualtieri leading the county’s largest law enforcement agency.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. [ Times ]

Gualtieri, 59, began his law enforcement career as a detention deputy at the Pinellas jail in 1982. He later became a patrol deputy and eventually served as the agency’s chief deputy and general counsel — he has a law degree from Stetson University College of Law. He was appointed sheriff in 2011 and won elections in 2012 and 2016.

Related: All of the Times Editorial Board recommendations

A Republican, Gualtieri has garnered kudos from across the political spectrum for his championing of jail diversion programs and, more recently, for his commonsense approach to tackling the coronavirus. He has advocated for mask use to curtail the spread of the virus, recently saying, "Show me in the Constitution where it says you have a right not to wear a mask.” He’s also smart to focus on how to support deputies who must deal with mentally ill residents.

Gualtieri is a past president of the Florida Sheriff’s Association and won 2019 Sheriff of the Year from the National Sheriffs Association, which noted his role as chair of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, created after the school shooting in Parkland.

He has resisted the use of 24/7 body cameras by deputies, only recently coming around to accepting the technology. He also supported a controversial sanctuary city ban that he helped craft. And two summers ago he misjudged when he declined not to arrest a man who shot another man in a convenience store parking lot. The shooter was later convicted after prosecutors filed charges. But in total, he’s been right much more often than wrong. His intellectual rigor and hard work helps him avoid knee-jerk decisions. And he’s willing to reevaluate his positions, as he has on body cameras.

Eliseo Santana, 62, easily won the Democratic primary in August. He was a longtime employee in communications and technology for the Sheriff’s Office before leaving in 2012. He also spent six years in the Army and Florida National Guard in the 1970s and early 1980. While affable and versed on many policing issues, he has never been a sworn officer, a major deficiency when vying to be the county’s top cop. He is a fan of community policing and “ending the militarization of our domestic police force,” according to his website.

A few months ago, Santana ran unsuccessfully for Clearwater City Council and the Pinellas School Board in 2016. As we said before the primary, his recent campaigns raise concerns about whether he is running for sheriff because he wants that particular job or simply any elected position.

Gualtieri deserves four more years at the helm of an agency with roughly 3,000 employees and a $300 million budget. For Pinellas County sheriff, the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board recommends Bob Gualtieri.

Related: How the Times makes its political recommendations.

Candidate replies

Candidates not recommended by the editorial board are offered an opportunity to reply. They can send replies of up to 150 words by 5 p.m. Oct. 10 to Editor of Editorials Graham Brink at gbrink@tampabay.com.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news

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