By: Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board
There is no doubt Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw will win a fourth term. He has raised $600,000. His four opponents have raised about $25,000 – combined. Bradshaw will get enough votes on Aug. 30 to avoid a general election runoff.
There also is no doubt Bradshaw should get that fourth term. He has support from the criminal justice and civic establishment because of how much the department has improved since Bradshaw took over and how much Bradshaw has used his position to benefit the county. Example: Bradshaw persuaded the Miami-based South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force to create a satellite office in West Palm Beach.
Yet Bradshaw’s current term has been marked by controversies. There have been the many deputy-involved shootings, which the Palm Beach Post and WPTV-Channel 5 examined last year. Bradshaw has drawn criticism for seeming to instinctively defend every deputy and resist calls for change.
When the County Commission this year essentially allowed law enforcement agencies to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, Bradshaw said he would not change policy. And though some commissioners want deputies to wear body cameras, Bradshaw said he would need $19 million more in his proposed 2016-17 budget of $594.1 million. Unless he can equip everyone, he says he will equip no one.
Though he can seem defensive, Bradshaw has responded or offered explanations, if later.
After the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Mo., two years ago, Bradshaw said, he asked an outside group to review use-of-force cases. The review found most shootings occurred within seven minutes after a deputy arrived. The office now stresses what Bradshaw calls a “tactical pause.” There were just three officer-involved shootings dropped last year. There has been one this year.
Bradshaw also told county commissioners he shares their goal of not saddling young people with a criminal arrest for marijuana possession. In those cases, he said deputies issue a notice for the person to appear in court. That action allows someone to receive drug counseling in a diversion program. If the person completes the program, there is no record.
New County Administrator Verdenia Baker granted Bradshaw’s request for a 4.3 percent budget increase. To those who criticize the nearly $600 million total – roughly half of the county’s operating budget – Bradshaw points out that the figure includes the cost of running the jail. In other parts of Florida, county government runs the jail.
Palm Beach County’s most pervasive crime problem is the heroin epidemic. Bradshaw intends to use “the same model we used for pill mills” to go after dealers. “Sober houses,” he said, “are a big part of the problem.” With luck, the Obama administration soon will give local governments help in regulating them.
Officially, Bradshaw has four challengers. Paul McBride, however, is not participating in campaign events and has raised no money.
None of the other three is a credible candidate. Samuel Thompson worked as a corrections officer for the sheriff’s office, but never rose above the rank of training officer and was fired. Alex Freeman was a major for the Riviera Beach Police Department – never considered one of the county’s best – and was fired before winning his job back at a hearing.
Rick Sessa hosts a radio show on which he regularly criticizes “corruption” within the sheriff’s office. Sessa, though, comes up short on specifics. He sent the Sun Sentinel a list of retired administrators whom he said Bradshaw brought back at high salaries. Bradshaw said only one of them – Chief Deputy Mike Gauger – works there. “I brought him back when I started,” Bradshaw said, “because of all the land mines in the department.”
Sessa also claims that the office has the “fifth-worst case-closing rate in the state.” But he could not cite the source of that ranking. Bradshaw said such figures are compiled only by city and by crime.
His public persona may be lacking, but Bradshaw is right that the department’s “body of work” under his leadership is good. The Sun Sentinel recommends Ric Bradshaw for Palm Beach County Sheriff.