After eight years on the job, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw is seeking a third term in office, facing challengers Joe Talley of Wellington and Cleamond Lee Walker of Riviera Beach in the Aug. 14 primary election.
If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will advance to the November general election ballot. Write-in candidate Kevin Coleman of Jupiter has also filed to run.
Bradshaw, 64, has been sheriff for almost eight years. He cites his extensive experience and the manner in which the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has grown since he has been sheriff as key reasons to re-elect him.
Before taking over the PBSO, Bradshaw led the county’s second-largest law enforcement agency, the West Palm Beach Police Department.
“I was police chief there for eight years, which really gave me a lot of preparation to go to the next level, which was the sheriff’s office,” he said. “It’s the same principles, but on a larger scale.”
Bradshaw has been in law enforcement for 41 years, most of it in supervisory roles. “1980 was when I rose to the captain level,” he said. “Two-thirds of my 41 years is in upper-level management.”
Bradshaw has a bachelor’s degree in human resources management, which he said gives him a good perspective on managing personnel.
“Because we’ve got 4,000 people, that’s an important part of the job,” Bradshaw noted.
His master’s degree is in management with a specialization in emergency management, which gives him good preparation for the position he is in currently as chairman for all domestic security for South Florida.
“My experience is well-rounded. It’s not all just law enforcement, because in the sheriff’s job, you’ve got a large corporation to manage also,” he said. “With a budget as large as ours is, you’ve got to pay attention to those details, and this year’s budget paid off very well because we had good business practices. We were able to return to the county $10 million.”
Bradshaw cites among his top accomplishments in office a streamlining of the organization in his first six months with the PBSO. “It was very top-heavy when I got in there,” he said. “We had six colonels; we’re down to two. We had a lot of majors; we streamlined that, same with captains. We had people take on a lot more responsibilities and really got the agency to where it was functioning in a much more cohesive fashion.”
Bradshaw said he also brought the office into the 21st century technologically. “The organization, for the largest law-enforcement organization in the county, was working with 1970s technologies,” he said. “To not have laptops in the cars for the deputies, but a system that was antiquated where every other organization in the county had laptops in the cars, was deplorable.”
He talked county officials into a five- to seven-year program of $80 million to bring the organization up to speed in technology.
“Today, our organization is probably one of the most technologically advanced organizations in the country,” Bradshaw said. “Not only do we have laptops in the cars, we have ticket readers, we’ve got printers, we have a new computer at our dispatch and our jail records system is managed better.”
Two other important accomplishments have been gaining control of gangs and pill mills. “Nobody has done more against gangs than we have,” Bradshaw said. “That’s why, when they created the state gang task force, they followed our model. Three and a half years ago, when nobody really wanted to admit what was going on with the gangs, we took a bold step forward, created the task force for the county, then brought the state and federal people into it.”
The program was so successful that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement created a statewide gang task force and made the PBSO the lead agency for the southeast region, Bradshaw said. “We’ve done tremendously,” he said “We’ve reduced gang homicides by 50 percent.”
The county was home to some of the largest pill mill organizations in the United States, which have been broken up. “Today, we’ve taken about 75 percent of them off the street, and we’ll take the rest of them out, too,” he said.
Bradshaw is also proud of the office’s Homeland Security Initiative.
“The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office wasn’t even a player in Homeland Security,” he said. “Miami was the lead agency. That meant all the Homeland Security money went to Miami, and they doled it out.”
Bradshaw aggressively worked to get the county on the Homeland Security map. “Now, all the security money that comes from the federal government through the state comes to us, and we get to hand it out,” he said.
The bottom line, Bradshaw asserted, is that the people of Palm Beach County are reaping the benefits of what the PBSO has been able to do. “At the end of the day, it results in the community being safer,” he said. “This is the fourth year in a row that Palm Beach County has had a reduction in crime, and we’re very proud of that.”
Meanwhile, the PBSO has expanded into municipalities such as Royal Palm Beach and Lake Worth. Royal Palm Beach came under the PBSO in 2007 after years of resistance.
“For years, Royal Palm Beach kept saying: ‘We don’t want to merge. We love our policemen. We don’t want to lose our police department.’ Finally, when they came to the realization they were not really losing their police department — it’s the same people doing the same job with more resources, they just have a different color shirt, different color car — now they will tell you they wish they had done it 10 years ago,” Bradshaw said.
He said his priority if re-elected would be to finish what has been started. “We’ve got gangs on the run,” Bradshaw said. “Before it’s over, we’re going to get the worst of the worst out of here. The pill mills, we’re definitely going to get them out of here. If I see those through, and get the level of technology where it’s supposed to be and provide the employees with the tools that they need, then I’ll be happy.”
He said he also wants to put a stronger focus on community-oriented policing, where deputies are assigned to specific areas and get to know the people in that community. Bradshaw said the agency has made great strides in that area but could do better. He also wants to put more resources into the growing crime of identity theft.
Asked if there was anything he would have done differently the past eight years, he said he would have tried to get deputies a higher pay raise. During his second budget, the deputies were the 13th-highest-paid in the county out of 26 agencies.
“I went in there and convinced the county to raise them up to seventh. They’re not even the highest paid and probably will never be because of the tax base, but to be the busiest, largest, the chief law-enforcement agency, to be the seventh down the list, I don’t think that’s fair to them,” Bradshaw said.
In the face of financing cuts, with the possibility of more in the future, Bradshaw said the office is adequately funded now, but if future cuts are necessary he has told the county adamantly that he would not take deputies off the street.
Bradshaw said people should vote for him because he has done a good job and has made the community safer. “There’s a lot of things that we want to finish and make the community as safe as it can be,” he said.