Black sheriff overcomes bigotry
It’s been just over one year that Gregory Tony became the first Black sheriff in the history of Broward County, Florida.
And, as one might expect, Tony’s job is made all the more difficult because even in the 21st century, it’s quite the challenge for many to accept a Black man in-charge of the sheriff’s office.
“I came into this organization last year, appointed by the governor, and I didn’t have time to prepare a roll-out strategy, and I had to fix so many problems,” said Tony, a 2002 criminology graduate of Florida State University. Tony also holds a master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Nova Southeastern University, and he’s worked as an adjunct professor for more than eight years.
All of that experience has prepared Tony to deal with at least one union president who has found fault with everything from Tony’s handling of rogue deputies, securing personal protection equipment for county personnel during the coronavirus pandemic, and his promotion of employees who have worked in the department for years but had previously gone unnoticed.
“They don’t like that I have come in here and excelled at this job,” said Tony, who began his law enforcement career in 2005 with the Coral Springs Police Department, where he served on the SWAT team for five years and rose to the rank of sergeant. He also worked in narcotics investigation, burglary apprehension, street intelligence, and field force.
“I’ve raised $1 million in my political committee, which shows that this community is rallying behind me. I’m focused because this is much bigger than me. It took 105 years to get a Black man in office. If I fail, they will never let another Black person in this office,” he said.
Broward County has about 3,180 of Florida’s coronavirus cases, and Tony has ensured first responders were well-equipped. He explained that all deputies have PPE, and if they require any extra PPE during a shift, it is provided accordingly.
Under Tony’s guidance, Broward dispatchers are asking a series of questions to identify possible COVID-19 cases before deputies arrived on the scene.
That information is relayed to first responders so that they can use the appropriate PPE gear for the call. Additionally, BSO’s civilian staffers are working from home when practical and possible.
All employees are screened before entering any BSO facility, and work areas are being cleaned on an enhanced schedule.
“I want to assure you that the Broward Sheriff’s Office has enough Personal Protective Equipment to do our job. At BSO, we are constantly monitoring and replenishing our resources so that we continue to have the necessary PPE for the duration of the pandemic,” Tony stated.
“We are committed to holding ourselves to the highest standards of professionalism and accountability, and that has not changed with the coronavirus health crisis. We all have a sworn duty to protect the public, and that starts with making sure that all our deputies are healthy and safe to serve.”
When the pandemic began, the sheriff’s department had access to about 4,000 masks. Still, despite the difficulty in acquiring masks and other protective equipment, Tony opened the budget to ensure the acquisition of more than 115,000 masks.
From Feb. 1 through April 6, Tony’s office issued 25,263 N95 masks and 44,773 surgical masks and more than 4,100 bottles of hand sanitizer.
“We must set the record straight. We are experiencing a global health crisis that is redefining how we do everything at every human level,” Tony stated, in a clear rebuke of union members questioning his authority. “This is not a time to spread misinformation and unfounded rumors to create a division for political and personal agendas.
“It is despicable that a few individuals are using the death of one of our veteran deputies for political gain. My command staff and I believe in transparency on all levels and are here to answer your questions,” he said.
Despite the discord, some of Tony’s actions during the pandemic have included:
• BSO has spening an additional $1.3 million securing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) so that agency personnel will have PPE throughout the pandemic.
• Making sure all employees are screened before entering a BSO facility and at the beginning of each work shift.
• Moved many BSO services to online or telephone, and screening all visitors to BSO facilities before allowed entrance.
• Implementing remote work capabilities for non-response personnel, unless operationally necessary for staff to work on-site.
• Emphasizing social distancing, personal hygiene, and cleaning work areas frequently.
• BSO has temporarily limited non-emergency law enforcement functions that don’t significantly impact operations.
• BSO is not serving evictions until further notice from the court.
• In each district, sergeants prioritize calls to determine if a deputy’s physical response is required (i.e., violent and emergency calls only) and have instituted Telephone Response Units to handle non-emergency calls for service, including traffic crashes, delayed thefts, noise complaints, fraud, nonviolent offenses, etc.
Meanwhile, the Broward branch of the International Union of Police Associations has sought a no-confidence vote on Tony just one week after the sheriff took union president Jeff Bell to task for using politics to try and destroy morale in the department.
The union president claims Tony lied about his career, exaggerated his experience as a law enforcement officer, and that he has fired deputies without due process.
“They said I wasn’t an adjunct professor. I had them pull my personnel file, and it shows that I’ve been an adjunct professor for eight years,” Tony said.
“They said I was wrong when I broke open a window to rescue a woman who was about to be killed.”
Tony suspended Bell, who is now seeking reinstatement and an order preventing Tony from punishing a union president.
Tony said it’s all part of what makes his job tough and why he won’t quit.
When he took over the job, the sheriff’s office had been under heavy criticism for its response to the 2018 Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Tony fired four of those officers for not following guidelines, and he went against standard recommendations and put together a more diverse review board to look at deputy-involved incidents.
“We had to change things,” Tony said.
“These actions were reasonable and necessary,” he said. “We had 17 kids die in the school, and we had to hold them accountable. We had a deputy slam a Black man’s head into the ground, and I terminated him. I suspended a deputy for choke-slamming an 85-pound White girl for no reason. I mean it took 105 years to hit the reset button.”
Tony also has hired the first Black woman as the number 2 in command of the department and of the more than 400 promotions in the department under Tony, half have been women with the majority being African American.
“The union president is vindictive,” he said. “I have given the agency best raise in 25 years, and the union didn’t have to negotiate it. I promote from within. We have the most Black and Brown staff there is, and that scares people.”