Jim Manfre decided to pursue a career in law enforcement when he was about 7 years old.
Manfre, Flagler County’s sheriff-elect, has a very distinct memory from that age. His mother sat him down one day and told him that his father had been in a serious accident. His car had been struck by a drunk driver.
“I was, at a pretty early age, confronted with a crime that directly impacted my family,” Manfre said. “Having experienced that, it was always in my mind that I wanted to do something in law enforcement.”
Years later, after Manfre finished college, he started working in a district attorney’s office in the Bronx. There, he was encouraged to go to law school. He did. Afterward, he became an assistant district attorney in Long Island, where his work largely centered on curtailing organized crime. During this time, he built his philosophy on law enforcement, which was largely influenced by Rudy Giuliani. Manfre was setting up for an event, and saw that Giuliani showed up two hours early. This was the mid-1990s, and Giuliani had just recently become mayor of New York. Giuliani said a well-managed entity gives all employees a chance to offer suggestions for improvement.
“I was very impressed with his desire, having grown up in New York City myself, to make the police more accessible to citizens,” Manfre said. “The relationship between law enforcement and the citizens had traditionally been an ‘us vs. them’ situation, and the key was to make it more that we were partners and neighbors.”
As the newly elected Sheriff, Manfre has plans for Flagler County.
First, he wants the office to operate on strong ethics with hard standards.
“One thing I can say about Jim Manfre is he’s passionate about doing what’s right, and sometimes to his political detriment,” said Sid Nowell, an attorney who has worked with Manfre.
Second, Manfre wants to implement community-oriented enforcement — a philosophy that views residents as customers to the Sheriff’s Office. Finally, he wants to adopt a business-focused approach to the government agency. Specifically, this means a reorganization for the Sheriff’s Office. Manfre, who previously served as sheriff before current Sheriff Donald Fleming beat him in elections for two terms, said Fleming doubled the number of supervisors in the department during his tenure. Manfre hopes to change that. He also wants to create a faster and more consistent response rate for complaints and calls from residents, create a substation in Palm Coast and extend the station’s operating hours.
Manfre won his position in November by only a few hundred votes. During his time out of office, he tried to stay out. But he said he couldn’t stay away — much like he couldn’t stay away the first time he ran for office.
Manfre and his family moved to Florida after he’d spent 12 years working as an assistant district attorney. At that time, he considered his goal to work in law enforcement met, and was ready to pursue something else: private practice. But he got to know deputies through his children’s participation in Police Athletic League sports. They got to talking about Manfre’s views on law enforcement, and before he knew it, he had deputies trying to convince him to run for sheriff because things in the office under Arthur Dyer were unsatisfactory, they said. Manfre declined, even as more and more deputies inquired.
But one day, Manfre said, a deputy who heard a rumor that Manfre might run came to his office and threatened him and his family in an attempt to get Manfre to back down. That was when Manfre decided to get back into law enforcement. And according to those who know him, a decision like that isn’t one Manfre takes lightly.
“He’s a very thoughtful guy,” said Dennis Cramer, who knows Manfre from church. “He takes his time before makes a decision.”
Cramer added that Manfre’s background as an attorney is likely why he examines problems from multiple angles before acting.
Similarly to when he originally ran for sheriff, Manfre said, watching the last eight years have made it impossible for him to stay away.
“There’s an old saying that without security, there is no liberty,” Manfre said. “My challenge has been to ignore the issues that have been going on for the last eight years, and I have not been able to do that.”
— Jared Mauldin contributed to this story.