As sheriff, I hold an important responsibility to protect our community’s children and encourage their positive development. The incredible people I meet around Broward leave me optimistic about our county’s future.
I also know many potential obstacles await our next generation at every turn — and how even one small mistake could derail these young people from achieving their full potential. No one should have their future destroyed because of a minor, youthful indiscretion. Kids make mistakes and bad choices. It is part of growing up. Learning from those mistakes is what allows children to grow into productive members of society.
For many, however, these minor indiscretions create far-reaching consequences that can amount to a life sentence of lost opportunities. This stark reality is even clearer in struggling working-class communities and communities of color, which are historically disproportionally impacted.
As sheriff, I am promoting restorative justice programs that provide individuals who commit a minor offense with a second chance at leading a productive life. Instead of a permanent arrest record, which could severely limit opportunities in adulthood, a youth who commits a minor offense would enter a restorative justice program. These programs hold the offender to account, provide them with the assistance they need and teach them the discipline, structure, dignity and responsibility necessary to become productive citizens.
These programs are a proven success, showing significantly lower recidivism rates among participants. They also save millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on less effective juvenile criminal justice system operations. But these programs are not a mere slap on the wrist. Individuals who commit non-minor offenses and repeat offenders know they will feel the full force of the law.
Our efforts are also focused on proactive measures to keep kids from committing crimes in the first place. I was raised largely by my mother in inner-city Philadelphia and understand both the detriment of not having mentors and of how many in minority communities distrust law enforcement. At BSO, we are tackling both issues through a host of bold initiatives.
First, we are expanding our Law Enforcement Explorers Program, which exposes teenagers to positive values and role models. I will also be introducing the BSO Internship Initiative for individuals interested in a career in public safety. Too often, community members interact with deputies only at the worst of times. This program allows for a better understanding of our goals and mission — and allows us better insights into the communities we protect. In addition, because many struggle to pay for school, BSO is developing a criminal justice scholarship program to ease the financial burden. These scholarships are an investment in the future of law enforcement and our communities.
Finally, I am reexamining how the money seized from the proceeds of criminal activity is distributed to community-based nonprofit organizations to support important local programs. Programs that benefit from this Law Enforcement Trust Fund are vital to our mission of connecting with youth and providing programs, mentorships and assistance to them. In the past, distribution was woefully inequitable, with a select few organizations receiving the bulk of the money. I don’t believe in playing favorites, and we will work to ensure that all qualified organizations receive a fair opportunity to compete for funds and that the money will be distributed equitably to the most deserving.
I am humbled by the important role the Sheriff plays in the lives of our county’s children, and I pledge to do my all to ensure their future success.
Service Equals Reward
Sheriff Gregory Tony