Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister should be ashamed for standing alongside Thursday as Gov. Ron DeSantis removed the county’s elected prosecutor from office. DeSantis’ suspension of State Attorney Andrew Warren was disgraceful enough. But Chronister and other uniformed members of law enforcement impugned their badges and damaged their mission by giving DeSantis cover for abusing his authority.
The Republican governor suspended Warren on the pretext that the Democratic prosecutor failed to enforce certain criminal cases. Of the two examples the governor gave, one isn’t a crime in Florida and the other hasn’t landed on Warren’s desk.
To those two strikes add a third — the terrible judgment Chronister showed in fueling this partisan circus. Chronister joined the governor’s announcement at the sheriff’s office and stood on stage with other conservative props, including two of Florida’s showboating sheriffs, Polk’s Grady Judd and Pasco’s Chris Nocco, to paint Warren as soft on crime.
Nobody in Hillsborough cares what Judd or Nocco think. Voters here elected Warren, and Chronister, too, and expect them to work together under the checks-and-balances system to bring criminals to justice. Police and prosecutors have different jobs, and tension between them is natural and healthy. Besides, Chronister and former Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan — who also appeared at DeSantis’ event — have found common ground with Warren before; both worked with Warren to expand second-chance programs for young offenders. It’s an example of the compassionate thing being the right thing.
That’s why the sheriffs damaged far more than Warren with their show of force Thursday. Only two years after the George Floyd riots sparked a wakening for police reform across the country, the sheriffs lent their credibility to a governor with a terrible record on speech and justice for the purposes of ousting a progressive prosecutor whom the voters twice elected. It was an arrogant display of contempt for prosecutorial discretion and the sheriffs’ role in local law enforcement.
But what it said about their relationship with average people was actually worse.
Aren’t these the same sheriffs who plead with Black and brown residents to cooperate with police, to help end the no-snitch culture in their communities and to see law enforcement officers as there to help rather than to threaten them? Aren’t these the same sheriffs who lecture that justice is blind and that the legal system has backstops to prevent abuse?
What are residents of especially minority neighborhoods supposed to think watching these top cops contribute to the governor’s political crusade? These officers looked crisp and dutiful before the cameras with their collar pins, shoulder patches and guns. But the uniform they wear and the authority it conveys belong to the public — not a party, not a governor, not an election campaign. The entire picture Thursday was of law enforcement siding with a governor hostile to Warren’s more moderate approach and his record in the post-Floyd era of holding officers accountable.
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Warren’s removal was ugly, and we hope it’s reversed. But the politicization of law enforcement on raw display Thursday is the slow drip under the house. Chronister contributed to this worsening state, and so did other area law enforcement heads who refused to say a peep about this attack. Either the shock has an impact or Floridians normalize the rot to their own peril.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.