Florida sheriffs have long hand-plucked their successors from within the ranks. While he is a product of this tradition, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister is uniquely qualified to be elected on his own merits.
Then-Sheriff David Gee surprised even his command staff by stepping down early in September 2017, but it was no surprise that he urged Gov. Rick Scott to appoint Chronister as his successor. Chronister had risen to the rank of colonel during his 26 years at the agency, a reflection of his judgment, reputation and leadership skills.
Chronister, 50, understands the threats and challenges that law enforcement faces today. The Republican has made "progressive" training a priority, with the goal of keeping deputies continually prepared and equipped to meet with the evolving demands of the job. He sees mental health as a growing issue, as deputies face those impacted by opioid and other substance abuse and behavioral problems.
Chronister is also sensitive to rehabilitation for those who commit minor crimes. One of his first acts as sheriff was to expand a civil citation program for juveniles, which helps nonviolent offenders avoid a criminal history. He is careful to ensure the program is not abused. But Chronister is right that otherwise law-abiding citizens should not pay unduly for a minor mistake. He has worked well with other players in local law enforcement, including Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren. And he took a strong stance after the high school massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland this year to ensure that school campuses were staffed with professional police or a Sheriff's Office-trained security officer. Chronister's longtime support of the Boys & Girls Clubs has brought the right role models to the next generation.
Gary Pruitt, 50, is a former Tampa police corporal who works in private security. The Democrat said he entered the race to give voters a choice in filling a job that's been effectively handed down for decades. He promises a fresh look as an outside professional and to serve as a stronger advocate for the rank-and-file. That's a legitimate rationale for a qualified candidate to enter the race, but Pruitt has not fleshed out his ideas, and he seems uncomfortable about the public nature of the job.
Chronister is sharp, open and personable. He has demonstrated his commitment to protecting the community, and he appreciates the public obligations that come with elected office. To his credit, Chronister is not a showboat like some other media-hungry sheriffs. His style reflects his focus on professionalizing law enforcement. He also understands the need for the ranks of the Sheriff's Office to reflect the community it serves.
For Hillsborough County sheriff, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Chad Chronister.