Chad Chronister points to robust record in reelection battle against two challengers

CHAD CHRONISTER (4) (Large)
Chronister will likely face criticism, but he's armed with a record.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister faces two challengers in the Nov. 3 General Election, a Democrat and an Independent.

While the race is partisan, Chronister doesn’t plan to run it that way.

“I’ve never seen this as a partisan office,” Chronister said. “I hate the fact that you have to put an R or a D behind your name. I want to be the Sheriff for all people because I feel that everyone deserves to feel safe.”

Emergency operators at 911 call centers don’t, Chronister said, ask a person calling for help whether they’re a Republican or a Democrat; whether they’re Black or White. They just help everyone.

Chronister easily dispatched his opponent in the Aug. 13 GOP primary, besting former Hillsborough Sheriff’s detective Charles Boswell with 67% of the vote.

The campaign was marked by a spate of criticism from Boswell, who is actively suing the agency over claims he was wrongfully terminated and instead the fall guy for refusing to cover up an improper interrogation.

Chronister will, he knows, face more of the same heading into the General Election where he faces Democrat Gary Pruitt and independent Ron McMullen.

Pruitt ran against Chronister four years ago, losing 55% to 45%. Pruitt ran critical of Chronister’s leadership, a tactic that’s likely to be similar this time around.

But while Pruitt campaigns on claims about broken morale, it’s McMullen who has perhaps been most vocal in his criticism, arguing deputy call response times are inadequate.

Chronister expects the attacks and, he told Florida Politics, he will defend and clarify where necessary, but plans to run on his record.

“They’re focus is on, let’s just attack the Sheriff,” he said. “McMullen talks about response times. We improved response times by 13 minutes over the last year.”

That improvement was driven by Chronister’s addition of a new district and new deputy hires that put more resources into communities where deputies were having trouble getting to calls in a timely manner.

Overall, his record is robust, even with only three years under his belt.

Chronister has led a series of reforms within the agency including diversion programs, enhanced mental health response, more community policing and engagement and increased transparency.

He’s directed resources toward combatting human trafficking, a problem Chronister notes is particularly pervasive in Tampa, the county’s largest city.

Chronister also launched a heroine task force as part of the department’s response to the opioid epidemic. The group works with homicide detectives and looks into whether or not a dealer, provided it can be proven they provided the drug, can be charged in relation to an overdose death.

Chronister also mandated 40 additional hours of officer mental health training, including on PTSD and drug-induced mental health issues, so officers can better differentiate between a combative suspect and one who is experiencing a mental health crisis.

He also implemented a collaboration between deputies and social workers to connect offenders with services to help get them on their feet, clean and sober, and away from crime.

“Our biggest challenge is not homicide, it’s not violent crimes, it’s mental health,” Chronister said.

Chronister’s record also portrays the evolution of a law enforcement leader and administrator.

“I love being the tough on crime Sheriff, but I also want to be the smart on crime Sheriff,” he said.

That means more than just ‘lock them up.’

Under his leadership, the Sheriff’s office has focused on things like diversion programs for non-violent offenders and rehabilitating those released from jail.

Chronister instituted a number of vocational and training programs to send ex-offenders back into the community with skills they can use to make a living, which reduces recidivism.

He’s also emphasized community outreach to build relationships at a time where tensions toward law enforcement are high.

As the incumbent Sheriff, that could be Chronister’s most difficult hurdle to overcome this election. Nationwide people are protesting police brutality and institutional racism amid headlines about officer-involved shootings including the most recent Jacob Blake shooting and the George Floyd killing that sparked nationwide unrest.

It’s a tough balancing act for Hillsborough’s only remaining countywide elected Republican.

“It’s an interesting and difficult spot,” said former Rep. Shawn Harrison, a Republican. “He is getting attacked on the right, and I think a lot of it is unfair.”

Chronister, in his GOP primary, faced a bevy of criticism among those arguing he was a RINO — Republican in name only. Chronister donated to former President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party previously.

But to Harrison, Chronister is not abandoning his party, he’s walking a line that must me walked.

“He has to make sure in this hyper-partisan environment that he stays diplomatic with the Mayor of Tampa and the State Attorney who are in opposite parties, and that’s a tough balancing act and I think he’s doing it well,” Harrison said.

Chronister, again, plans to run his campaign on action. Amid growing unrest, Chronister sped up the timeline for deputies using body-worn cameras. At first, having the cameras on all the time was cost-prohibitive, so Chronister’s original plan was to only activate the cameras in situations where a firearm was discharged.

But as unrest was unfolding, the agency, in collaboration with its vendor, identified savings through a cloud-based data storage program that reduced costs by about $10 million. He secured approval from Tampa City Council to move forward. By the end of the month, 1,000 deputies will be equipped with the cameras.

Chronister also implemented civil unrest training and purchased less lethal weapons like tasers to avoid conflicts that result in use of deadly force.

He also supported transitioning the agency from its own oversight on use of deadly force. The agency now has officer-involved shootings investigated independently by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Chronister’s campaign consultant, Anthony Pedicini, plans to run a clean campaign based, as Chronister said, on the issues and Chronister’s record.

Pedicini pointed to an issue that unfolded as protests were ongoing in the area and throughout the nation. In an unrelated incident, Hillsborough deputies reported a colleague who pointed his gun at a restrained suspect’s head. Chronister fired and arrested the deputy under agency policies requiring deputies to report incidents.

The policy, Chronister said, had been in place for some time, but it wasn’t as forward facing. Now, he instructed staff to produce a video outlining the policy to be shown to deputies and new recruits with the hope of encouraging deputies to hold their co-workers accountable for bad behavior.

Chronister’s chances look good in the election. He heads into the General Election with about $255,000 on hand in his campaign account and another $726,000 in his political committee, Friends of Chad Chronister.

McMullen retains just $10,000 heading into the General Election while Pruitt has less than $100 on hand.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].



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