Three-term incumbent Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw faces three challengers in his bid for a fourth term in the Tuesday, Aug. 30 primary election.
Aside from Bradshaw, the nonpartisan primary ballot will include retired Riviera Beach Police Maj. Alex Freeman, retired Riviera Beach Sector Commander Rick “Rosco” Sessa and former PBSO Deputy Samuel Thompson. Write-in candidate Paul McBride of Palm Beach Gardens also filed to run.
If a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, he will be automatically elected. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will advance to the general election ballot in November.
Ric Bradshaw — Bradshaw, the former West Palm Beach police chief, was elected sheriff in 2004 and re-elected in both 2008 and 2012 by wide margins.
“I’m hoping I do as well,” Bradshaw told the Town-Crier on Wednesday. “That shows me the agency’s working properly when you get that kind of response.”
He said he is running for a fourth term to maintain stability within the department.
“Before I was elected, we had three sheriffs in eight years, and that leads to instability with the employees,” Bradshaw said. “Everything is in place [now], the right policies, the right procedures. The agency is moving in the right direction. The employees are happy, the morale is good, and they don’t want any change.”
More important are the initiatives that the agency is involved with, he said.
“Number one is our fight against the gangs,” Bradshaw said. “That is violent crime. Gangs are responsible for the vast majority of violent crimes, and nobody in this state has fought the gangs more than we have. We have taken 10 of them out of the system. There’s a lot more work left to do, but it’s a daily fight.”
Other initiatives are fighting the recent onslaught of heroin, as well as sober homes involved in insurance fraud.
Probably the most important is the agency’s involvement with the Department of Homeland Security, he said.
“We’re the lead agency for Homeland Security, regional domestic security for South Florida,” Bradshaw said. “The governor appointed me as the chairman of that five years ago. That’s a huge responsibility, but it’s important for Palm Beach County because we operate the regional fusion center, which is the regional intelligence-gathering network, and we control the funds that come from the federal government down here to be used for domestic security.”
The agency has established coastal radar to monitor any vessels that may try to enter South Florida illegally.
“It’s a very important position, and it takes a certain amount of qualifications to be able to hold this position, and none of the other people in this race against me have those qualifications,” Bradshaw said. “Why would you want to choose an individual who doesn’t have the qualifications, has never run a police agency, when I’ve done this for 12 years?”
Some of his challengers say that the growth of the PBSO into the county’s municipalities has led to a lack of sensitivity in those municipalities, but Bradshaw points out that the majority of officers are from the previous municipal departments.
“It’s the same people who were there before, with the same connection to the community,” he said. “All they’re doing is wearing a different uniform, driving a different car, and have more resources to address crime with.”
Bradshaw also pointed out that crime is down significantly in all the jurisdictions that the PBSO has taken over in the past five years.
His challengers point to the growing PBSO budget, which accounts for almost half of the county budget, but Bradshaw noted that for the past two years, he has had no problem getting his budget passed by the Palm Beach County Commission.
“You have to understand that a large portion of my budget is responsibilities of the county, and they put it into my budget to take care of the jail, the courthouse, the school crossing guards,” he said.
Others have taken issue with the alleged use of excessive and deadly force during some arrests, but Bradshaw pointed out that the department made more than 26,000 arrests last year and used force of any kind only about 500 times. “That’s less than 2 percent,” he said. “The national average is around 5 percent, so the facts don’t bear that out.”
For more information, visit www.ricbradshawforsheriff.com.
Alex Freeman — Freeman said he is running to bring more transparency, accountability and accessibility to the department.
“I want the people of Palm Beach County to know that everything that we do is going to be transparent in terms of there will be no implications of cover-ups, of lost evidence or not being responsive to the people of Palm Beach County,” he said. “Everything we do [would be] consistent with policy and procedures and state statutes.”
Freeman said that the municipalities under PBSO patrol tend to lose the personal touch of a local police agency.
“I’ve had conversations with communities that are under the auspices of the sheriff now who also share that they just don’t have that personal relationship,” he said. “We are going to develop that relationship by creating Sheriff’s Night Out and Sheriff on the Move programs.”
Freeman said if he’s elected, once a week from 5 to 8 p.m. the district commanders would be required to be at the substation so that people residing in those communities could come in and share whatever concerns they may have.
“The Sheriff on the Move component of that is that myself and my undersheriff, we’re going to visit a district each week so that we can participate in those conversations and have firsthand knowledge as to the concerns that those residents in those communities may have, so that we can begin to build a better relationship, working in collaboration with our communities.”
Freeman also plans to implement a sheriff’s advisory board made up of people from across the county that would make recommendations as to what they would like to see in their communities.
“The budget is a big concern. It’s a $590 million budget that has no transparency,” he said. “When you look at it, the budget has increased over the last 10 years 68 percent. What we’re going to do is administer, along with the Office of the Inspector General and an accounting firm, a forensic examination of the budget, line item by line item, to determine what programs serve to the benefit of the people of Palm Beach County versus those that don’t.”
Freeman feels that the incumbent needs to be more accountable to the public.
“Every four years that the sheriff has run for office, and this year is no different, he’s always talking about gangs and how this county is plagued with gangs, and he was going to go after the gangs,” Freeman said. “The first four years he did the job of incarcerating gang members, but what we’re going to do, we’re going to talk to former gang members who have transformed their lives and are… willing to work in collaboration with my administration with gang members who enter into our jail so that we can begin to reduce the number of gang affiliations here in Palm Beach County.”
Bradshaw has raised far more money for his campaign than any other candidate, but Freeman said that is not intimidating to him.
“His donations came from big businesses, whether it be here in the State of Florida of out of state,” he said. “Those are not really the voters. They are not going to be going out and voting for him. He’s going to use that funding to do more commercials and send out mailers, but the thing about it is that over the last few years, incumbents who have raised the most money have been losing their races. It all comes down to when the voters are tired of you and simply want a change.”
Freeman believes that he and his supporters have done a great job the past three years getting his name out through social media.
For more information, visit www.freemanforsheriff2016.com.
Rick “Rosco” Sessa — Sessa said he is running because he feels the agency has been corrupted by the current sheriff.
“It’s not something I planned to do, getting back into the industry, but I grew up here, I policed here in the City of Riviera Beach over 20 years, and I’ve been exposing this sheriff and the culture of corruption that he’s involved in in his career, his lack of integrity, trust and honesty,” Sessa said.
He said he supported a candidate in the last election who was not successful.
“I didn’t feel there was a viable candidate in this election, so I decided to make a run for it myself,” he said.
Sessa noted that he has filed 18 charges of improper, unethical and unlawful activity against the incumbent sheriff to the U.S. Department of Justice, Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi.
“They are looking into an investigation on 18 charges of misconduct of the sheriff, along with an investigation of questionable shootings, which the sheriff came to the scene of, and within hours claimed they were justified,” Sessa said.
He also believes that the agency’s budget is wasteful and mismanaged. “His budget has consistently grown over his tenure as sheriff,” he said. “Our property taxes have risen every year to pay for his budget.”
Sessa also blames the sheriff for making the county a sanctuary county for illegal aliens.
“They are able to reside here without fear of arrest, to get benefits, and the reason he’s tied into and wants us to be a sanctuary county is because he’s connected to big sugar,” he said. “Big sugar, we know, employs a lot of migrant workers. We also know they are big contributors to Ric Bradshaw’s campaign.”
If elected, Sessa said, he would eliminate the sanctuary county designation and also put the agency under the oversight of the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics. He would also place the agency under the scrutiny of Palm Beach County auditors.
“They audit every budget under Palm Beach County… except for the sheriff because, as a constitutional officer, he uses his powers to not be under the oversight of the ethics commission or the county auditor’s office,” Sessa said.
Sessa would also honor the county’s passage of an ordinance reducing the penalty for the possession of small quantities of marijuana, which Bradshaw does not support.
“We’re going to allow the deputies to [use] discretion for small pot possession for arrest or notice to appear,” he said. “Bradshaw’s adamant about arresting because he has friends and he has employees of the sheriff’s office who are CEOs or owners or workers of drug screening or rehab companies here in Palm Beach County. When you’re arrested for small pot possession, you have to get drug screening that costs you about $750, on average. You go through their drug screening companies, and that’s going to be money out of their pockets.”
He also wants to reopen the Drug Farm and Eagle Academy programs, which he said were very successful but shut down by the sheriff during budget-cutting sessions. “Those buildings, those two multimillion-dollar facilities that were built just a few years prior to him shutting them down, are still sitting in Belle Glade,” Sessa said. “They are still kept up by the county. I went out there and photographed them last week. They are in great condition.”
For more information, visit www.sessaforsheriff.com.
Candidate Samuel Thompson could not be reached for comment.