Wood makes push to reduce “generational criminals”
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Mike Wood saw it during his tenure as head of Leon County Sheriff corrections unit.
Other officers before and after him have seen it, too.
Young repeat felons with familiar last names that linked them to their parents or grandparents are increasing. They are described as “generational criminals.”
“We are fighting high crimes in the same neighborhoods,” Wood said. “We have corrections officers who recognize last names as second and third generation offenders because their dads and mothers were here before them.”
That’s one of a lengthy list of social issues that Wood plans to fix if he is elected as the next Leon County Sheriff. He is the incumbent in a field that includes Charles Strickland, a lieutenant in the sheriff’s office, former Tallahassee Police chief Walt McNeil and Tommy Mills.
Wood was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to become sheriff after the death of Larry Campbell in December 2014. Wood said Campbell had promised not to run for another term so that Wood could try his own campaign for the position.
His to-do list is lengthy, with a program that he tabbed Suppression, Prevention, Intervention, Referral, Intelligence, Tool (SPIRIT) right at the top. The intent of the program is to stem the number of at-risk teenagers who slip through the cracks and grow to become habitual criminals.
The program will identify at-risk children and connect them with social workers who could work to reduce their chances of getting locked up multiple times.
“If we don’t put focus on our young people now and wait, then we’ve waited too late,” Wood said. “I don’t know that reform is out there for a 17-year-old who had been arrested 10 times.”
Wood, 56, has been with the sheriff’s office for 33 years. But he might not have even considered a career in law enforcement had an apprenticeship program in plumbing worked out for him. He worked as a pipe fitter but when the company left town he stayed and eventually became a volunteer with the sheriff’s office.
His brother, Ray, who was a deputy sheriff, encouraged him to give the opportunity a fair chance.
“He said just come volunteer,” Wood recalled his brother, who is older by 15 years, telling him. “See what you think; you may like it as a hobby.”
Ray, who is retired, admits that he still gives advice to his brother – not that he goes looking for any.
“If I don’t agree with him I’ll tell him,” the older Wood said. “There is very little that I disagree with my brother on. I know the kind of person he is.
“It’s true that he is my brother, but Mike Wood is a good hard-working man. He is good for the community. He cares about the job and he does it pretty well.”
The signs were there early that Wood would have a long law enforcement career, his brother said.
“I’ve watched Mike mature and become a very good deputy sheriff, a very good command staff level officer,” he said. “I felt (early on) like Mike was going to be in it for the long haul.”
Those early ride alongs when he volunteered helped him develop a passion for becoming a law enforcement officer, Wood said. He paid his way through the Law Enforcement Academy to prepare for the inevitable. Sheriff Eddie Boone hired him in 1983.
He learned fast, earning a reputation for being one of the best communicators on Boone’s staff. Wood developed the skill while riding along as a volunteer with the Sheriff.
“I would engage people when people are being mistreated and certainly there are victims of crimes and you can arrest the perpetrators for that; there is some level of satisfaction,” Wood said. “You feel like you are doing a service to the victim and the community.”
Wood worked every department in the sheriff office, even spending time as resource office at both Southside schools that he attended — Nims Middle School and Rickards High School.
Wood thought he was done serving after 30 years and took advantage of the Deferred Retirement Option Program. But Campbell brought him back as undersheriff just before he died, leaving Rob Swearingen as the interim Sheriff.
Not long after, Gov. Scott named Wood to finish the last two years of Campbell’s term.
“Undersheriff Michael Wood’s three decades of law enforcement experience will allow him, and the entire Leon County Sheriff’s Office, to continue the legacy of Sheriff Larry Campbell, who was a true law enforcement hero,” Scott said in announcing Wood would take over the sheriff’s office.
Wood brought his own style and other changes to the office. He said he immediately began to put in place some of the best practices that he’d learned from his mentors.
“When I got into office,” he said, “I thought it was my responsibility to do that for the young men and women behind me.”
While each of the candidates running for the Sheriff position come with lengthy law enforcement careers, Wood does hold somewhat of an edge as the incumbent.
He downplayed that, though.
“It’s just the reality of the circumstance,” he said. “There is some level of advantage but I’m never comfortable. I’ve never been a politician or been in a political race. Until the votes are counted, I’m a nervous wreck.”