'You’ve got to be willing to lead from the front,' Staly said.
Sometimes, on his way to work, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly conducts traffic stops. Some agencies’ leaders might consider that kind of work beneath them — the job of patrol deputies. Staly thinks it’s important, not only for motorists’ safety, but for the message it sends to the community and the agency.
“I think what makes a leader successful is you’ve got to be willing to lead from the front,” he said. “But I think you have to be humble and you have to be sincere.”
Staly took the role of sheriff in January 2017 after winning an election against former sheriff Jim Manfre, for whom he’d served as undersheriff.
Manfre was an attorney by trade, and when Staly campaigned, he did so as a “cop’s cop” — someone who’d been a patrol deputy and knew the job.
A Florida native, he became a police officer in Oviedo in 1975, then a deputy in Orange County. In 1978, he was shot trying to stop a suspect who’d gotten his partner’s gun. Gov. Rick Scott awarded him a Medal of Heroism in 2015 for that incident.
His background gave him credibility quickly and allowed him to press for a series of new initiatives at the Sheriff’s Office in his first year and to increase morale in the agency.
“Even when he goes out of town on a quote ‘vacation,’ there’s not too many times that a day goes by that four or five people on the staff have not heard from him because he’s still trying to keep his finger on the pulse,” said Mark Strobridge, the agency’s spokesman.
He said Staly also hopes to develop new leaders so the community can elect someone from within the agency when it’s time for him to retire.
“The team here now today will be the leaders tomorrow when he’s gone,” Strobridge said. “That’s going to come through significant commitment to training, professional development and leadership.”
The Sheriff’s Office’s new Domestic Violence Task Force is perhaps the best-known of the new programs spearheaded under Staly’s leadership.
Staly promised while he was campaigning that he would create the task force if elected. The agency announced it in October.
“Domestic violence is a serious problem in our community, and I’m not the type of sheriff to just sit back and watch it occur,” Staly said of his reasons for forming the task force. “We’ve already seen some good success with the batterers’ intervention program now in Flagler County.”
And, he said, the agency has applied for a grant to add a crime analyst and a detective assigned solely to investigate domestic violence. He hopes that aspect of the program will come through in 2018.
Meanwhile, he’s growing the agency — significantly so.
“This was an underfunded, understaffed agency,” he said. “By working with the elected officials of Palm Coast and the County Commission, they recognized that also and give us an infusion of staff. That’s starting to come online; deputies are in training now. The community will start seeing that in the first quarter of 2018.”
The county is funding the addition of 10 new deputies, and the city of Palm Coast has contributed funding for the addition of five new deputies that will be assigned to Palm Coast.
A move to district policing — the Sheriff’s Office has divided the county into three regions so that deputies can take some ownership over their patrol areas — has helped spur an increase in arrests, Staly said.
“When I took over as sheriff, we averaged 130 inmates a night in jail. We’re now averaging 235,” he said. Part of the reason, he said, may be increased capacity: With more jail cells available, judges may sentence more people to jail. Still, he said, “That tells me the deputies are engaged, they’re working, they’re catching criminals.”
The Sheriff’s Office is also starting a new marine parole unit and has added an airboat to its inventory of boats, which now stands at four and also includes an ocean-going vessel and two smaller boats for fresh water. That idea came from resident complaints about boaters speeding through the canals.
“Deputies are engaging more in the community,” Staly said. “We’re getting many, many tips now — the community knows what’s not right on their street or in their neighborhood, and they’re now engaged to tell us about it.”
Often, he added, residents have sent tips to his personal Facebook account.
Neighborhood Division Chief Paul Bovino said he’s also noticed a change in the way the community and local officials interact with the agency.
“He’s established a great relationship with the county and other officials; this is the best support that we’ve had from the city and the county,” Bovino said.
Strobridge said Staly’s willingness to talk straight — Staly, in agency news releases, often refers to suspects as “dirtbags” — and engage the community through social media and outreach activities has paid off.
So have activities like costuming a deputy as the Grinch or as Santa around Christmas and posting them on a visible stretch of roadway with a radar gun to deter speeders or drunk driving.
“Some people may see that stuff as silly, but it’s very important,” Strobridge said.
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to accurately reflect the date that Staly took office and the year in which he was shot in the line of duty.