Chris Yates, third in command at Holly Hill PD, wants to be Flagler County's sheriff
On the wall above Chris Yates’ home office, which he set up specifically for his campaign, there is a wooden figure of Jesus on the cross, alongside a photo mosaic of Yoda from “Star Wars.”
Yates is 39 years old, married with two children, and he has closely cropped, gray hair. He’s soft spoken and, when I met with him for an interview on June 30, he was wearing a white polo shirt.
One of the attributes that Yates highlights is that he is trustworthy. To illustrate, he tells a story from Christmas 2006, when he was assigned to a shift in front of Publix in Holly Hill.
While he was on duty, a woman gave him an envelope containing a winning $1,000 lottery ticket. She told him to make sure his family had a good Christmas. Yates told her he couldn’t accept it, and he tried to give it back to her, but she refused.
“She didn’t ask for anything in return,” Yates recalled, “so technically, I didn’t violate any policies. But I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do.”
He brought the ticket to the chief who again told him that he wouldn’t violate any policies by accepting the gift. But Yates insisted that it didn’t feel right, so he used the money to buy the gifts on City Hall’s angel tree for kids in need. The Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote a story about his good deed.
It’s a telling example and shows that Yates is interested in more than just the letter of the law: He wants to be beyond reproach.
“I don’t lie to my kids, I don’t lie to my wife,” he said. He said he tells the officers he supervises that they should think, “Would my mom be embarrassed by this?” He said, “If there’s ever a possibility of ‘yes,’ don’t do it. That’s what I live by.”
He continued: “I’ve never been written up. I have tons of commendations for ethics, morals — all that stuff. I don’t put my uniform on every day to be Chuck Norris or something. I go out to do the job and follow the laws.”
Early working life
Yates’ father, Lee, was a brick mason; his mother, Judy, worked at Eckerd.
At 8 years old, Yates began helping his father on Saturdays. He said, “I never had a summer break. He instilled hard work in me at a very young age.”
But at 16, Yates decided he didn’t want to work in construction for his whole life. He got a job leading dogs out on the dog track, then worked at Winn-Dixie and Papa John’s, where he was an assistant manager.
In 1998, he was hired by Walmart to be a manager, and he traveled around Central Florida working on remodeled stores to oversee the reopening process. In retail, he said, he learned how to read people, to sense whether someone is lying as they attempt to return a product for money. He also was held to a high standard of being polite to people no matter the circumstance, and that helps him today in his law enforcement career. “If you’re going to a burglary at someone’s house and they’re upset … you’ve got to be able to talk to them,” he said.
By 2004, he was married with two children and working 75 hours per week in retail. He decided it was time to change careers and do something he loved.
Why law enforcement?
Yates recalled his first inspiration to become a cop. When he was a kid, his grandmother died. A month later, a safe that contained her jewelry was stolen from Yates’ house.
“My mom was hysterical,” Yates recalled. “My dad was at work, and there was no way to get a hold of him. And the deputies came.”
He remembers, as a young child, crying along with his mother. “And I remember Rick Conway — he was a pretty big guy — he patted my head and he said, ‘Don’t worry, son. I’ll do whatever I can to help your mother.’”
Months later, Conway, a deputy with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, returned to the Yates home while he was off duty to report that they had recovered 80% of the jewelry.
“What I saw, with getting that stuff back — I wanted to do that for somebody else,” Yates said. “And actually in my career I’ve had two incidents that were almost identical.”
Unsolved case makes an impact
At 27 years old, Yates became a police officer. Within seven months, he was moved into the Criminal Investigations Division. He has been on patrol, worked in the Crime Suppression Unit. Today, he is operations commander and is third in command at the Holly Hill Police Department.
I asked him to give me an example that highlights his experience as a cop, and he told me about a homicide case from 2006. A witness refused to cooperate, and the case stalled.
“It stands out to me because it made me realize early in my career that catching the shoplifter, that’s an easy arrest,” Yates said. “But it’s not always like that. You have to put forth 150% to bring closure to a family member, a victim of a homicide.”
He said he and his team still open up the case every now and then to review it and see if there are any new angles or leads. It remains unsolved today.
I asked about his management experience. Overseeing a couple of dozen people is not a lot of experience compared with some of the other candidates who have overseen hundreds at a time.
“At the end of the day,” Yates said, “you only deal with the rank below you. If I needed a deputy to do something, you don’t call the deputy. You talk through your chain of command.”
In that way, he said, even the sheriff in Flagler County isn’t overseeing hundreds, really; he’s overseeing six people or so, and they oversee others. So the total number below you is less important than the manner in which you handle the six who report directly to you, Yates said.
He sees the sheriff’s job as a management position. “He’s making decisions,” Yates said. “You’re the CEO of the company.”
As a manager, he said he lives by the rule that you praise in public but discipline behind closed doors. Otherwise, morale suffers, and people leave the agency, which he feels is happening in Flagler County right now, he said.
A Yates administration would look like …
Yates said he loves his job in Holly Hill. So why is he trying to become sheriff?
“You can’t deny it: It’s a substantial pay raise,” he said. “I want to make things better for my family, and to better myself. If anyone told you it’s not that, they’d be lying.”
Referring to the ethics fines against former Sheriff Donald Fleming and current Sheriff Jim Manfre, Yates said, “A lot of people are tired of Flagler being — not humiliated, but embarrassed.” He feels he can restore integrity to the office.
He also said he wants the community to be more involved in the Sheriff’s Office, including with regard to the budget.
“I want them to have input in it,” he said. “I want them to see where their taxpayer money is being spent. Right now, it’s not broken down enough to explain stuff.”
Furthermore, he said he would have a community advisory board for the Sheriff’s Office and host town-hall-style meetings to answer any questions the public has about future budgets.
His last statement could also summarize his general view of what a Yates administration would look like in all facets of the Sheriff’s Office: “I want it to be so transparent that there’s no question at all.”