Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister won re-election Tuesday night, securing his job for the next four years, according to the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections’ website. Following months of national protests calling for police reform, he might not be what citizens want right now, but with possible civil unrest looming over the results of the presidential election, Chronister could be what the city needs.
Chronister has implemented proactive, holistic approaches to reform law enforcement like his probation-style program that allows first-time adult and juvenile offenders to avoid an arrest record, according to an Oct. 5 interview with ABC Action News. Chronister emphasizes preventing smaller crimes in Hillsborough County from turning into bigger issues down the road rather than handing out harsh punishments left and right.
Chronister’s probation program began in 2017 and offers first-offending adults and juveniles convicted of nonviolent crimes the opportunity to avoid an arrest on their record. Offenders of small crimes such as possession of marijuana or resisting arrest are able to participate in counseling, drug treatment and/or community service based on the crime, according to the Plant City Observer. Chronister said the program was a win for everyone.
“The reality is people make mistakes,” Chronister said. “By providing this opportunity for nonviolent, misdemeanor offenses, these adults within our community will be able to maintain gainful employment, provide for their families and remain productive citizens without being saddled with a criminal record.”
In the last two years, his methods have seemed to work. During his first two-year term in 2018 and 2019, the crime rate in Tampa went down while arrests for serious crimes like human trafficking went up, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Chronister told the Tampa Bay Times he believes this is attributable to his modern view on law enforcement.
“I think what that shows me is all the preventative programs and the progressive programs I put in place, they’re working,” Chronister said. “It’s not just putting a Band-Aid on the problem.”
Criticisms of Chronister have come from both sides of the political aisle. The Tampa Bay Times wrote that former detective and Republican Charles Boswell, Chronister’s main opponent in the 2018 primary election, said Chronister was “Republican by name only” and that he was taking the department in the wrong direction.
Darryl Paulson, professor emeritus of government at USF St. Pete, said that Chronister wouldn’t reform enough when it came to law enforcement and that he was too smart to not know that radical changes are bad for public image, according to The Appeal, an independent news outlet.
One of Chronister’s shortcomings is his aversion to radical police reform, something that the public has been demanding since George Floyd, a Black resident of Minneapolis, was killed by police May 25. Although Chronister said he believes the sheriff’s department needs to change, during a Zoom panel June 9 with local activists he said reduced funding is not the answer.
“Tampa’s City Council and Tampa’s Mayor [Jane Castor] just invested nearly $1 million in expanding their body-worn camera program,” Chronister said in response to calls to defund police departments. “The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office considers these local police departments essential to protecting the 1.4 million people in our community.”
A 2020 study from the Pew Research Center found that the cameras have not had statistically significant effects on most measures of officer and citizen behavior or citizens’ views of police. However, they have helped by bringing hard evidence to courtrooms, speeding up the rate that officers resolve criminal cases.
Despite criticisms from multiple sources, Chronister has undoubtedly made strides to transform Tampa into a safer place. He knows the city inside and out, and might be exactly what Tampa needs in the upcoming weeks as law enforcement prepares for imminent public outcry following the end of the election Nov. 3.
Damages from riots in America following Floyd’s death were estimated to cost up to $2 billion, according to the New Zealand Herald, and now storefronts all over the country are boarding up windows with plywood as shop owners prepare for the worst.
Florida sheriffs are saying they’ve never prepared for anything like this, according to the Tampa Bay Times, and are comparing preparations for the outcome of the election to Gasparilla, an event that brings more than 300,000 people together every year in the Bay.
One problem that Chronister can’t seem to shrug off is transparency issues. During the 2018 primaries, he was called out by his opponents for his shifting political views. Florida Politics reported that his direct opponent, Boswell, called him a “faux conservative” and attacked Chronister for his past support of Democrats. Despite running as a Republican in 2018, he personally contributed $15,000 to former President Barack Obama in 2012, according to Florida Politics.
While this might make him a less favorable candidate as his constituents may not know where he stands on partisan issues, it’s good that the sheriff keeps his political views private. It doesn’t matter whether the sheriff is conservative or liberal, so long as his personal beliefs never interfere with defending the public.
Now is not the time to welcome a fresh face into the sheriff’s department. Now is the time for a sheriff who understands Tampa and knows how to protect it. Chronister has the most experience to do this right now, and even if you don’t necessarily agree with his methods, everyone can agree that Tampa will be in dire need of a strong leader in the coming years as our citizenry becomes more divided.