Mental well-being is just as important as physical well-being. Since first responders are often the first people someone in a mental health crisis interacts with, it is critical that we know what mental illness looks like and what to do when we see it.
Dr. Vincent Van Hasselt is my mentor on mental health awareness for first responders. He is a professor at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) specializing in police psychology and a certified reserve officer with the Plantation Police Department. Dr. Van Hasselt knows firsthand that many mental health issues are silent and difficult to detect. Despite our wealth of knowledge and ability to perform our jobs safely and effectively, first responders benefit greatly from specific training dealing with mental health. As his former student, I have incorporated much of what Dr. Van Hasselt taught me into my work at the Broward Sheriff's Office.
One specific course that Dr. Van Hasselt is a big proponent of is Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. He has been teaching it since its inception in 2002. The training educates deputies to interact appropriately with someone who has a history of mental illness and gives them a better ability to deescalate a situation when needed. CIT-trained deputies can also recognize signs of mental illness better and have an increased sensitivity to what an individual living with mental illness may be going through. I believe this training is essential for all our deputies, and I will continue to push toward a fully-trained department.
CIT training alone, though, is not enough to address the mental health challenges facing today's public safety agencies. We must also confront our own mental health challenges. Many of our first responders, which includes law enforcement, fire rescue, detention and communications personnel, are used to helping others. Yet, they have trouble knowing how to find or ask for help for themselves. In comparison to the general population, first responders are up to three times as likely to develop PTSD or related disorders. These disorders can lead to severe complications for anyone if left untreated. For first responders who interact with the public in high-stress, often traumatic situations daily, an unchecked mental health issue can be disastrous.
I needed to do something about it. When I became sheriff, Dr. Van Hasselt reached out to me. He, too, was concerned about first responders' mental health and asked BSO to partner with NSU on an important program. Together, with the aid of a Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant and the tremendous help of Judy Couwels from our BSO Employee Assistance Program, we started the Peer Support Team, a progressive new resource for my agency's employees.
We want to make it easier for someone who needs help to get it, and first responders are more likely to seek help from a peer. The Peer Support Team is comprised of 30 sworn and civilian BSO employees who are available at any time for fellow BSO employees. Our Peer Support Team members are trained in active listening skills and critical incident stress management. They can refer those in need to community resources, and they have access to licensed psychologists who can handle more clinically complicated cases. This vital program is entirely voluntary and provides support and help to employees who may be experiencing personal issues, distress from critical incidents or are suffering from stress. I am proud of everyone involved in its development.
When we treat everyone with the appropriate methods of care, compassion and understanding, we all benefit.
Service Equals Reward
Sheriff Gregory Tony
Every Sunday morning, when Pompano Beach District Captain Martin Hedelund’s twin boys were young, he would take them on drives around Broward County, showing them various landmarks and sights. Captain Hedelund would do all the talking; Dalton and Martin Jr. sat and listened. They were four years old and nonverbal - a developmental delay caused by autism.
Today, Captain Hedelund’s boys are 14. Both can speak and express themselves in different ways. They remember those trips with dad, sometimes down to the date on which they happened. “It has been cataloged in their minds all these years,” Captain Hedelund says. “While the twins are aware of what is going on, sometimes they just can’t tell us that they know. We have faced challenges as a family, but with the blessings of early diagnosis, curriculum-based learning and having two caring parents, Dalton and Martin Jr. have exceeded expectations.”
As a veteran law enforcement officer, Captain Hedelund became better at his job from his personal experiences with autism. He learned how to read body language better and pick up on important social cues. His wife, Margi, has dedicated her life to spreading awareness about autism. She is a board member of the Autism Society of Florida. She travels across the state, sometimes with her sons, to teach first responders about autism awareness and how to communicate more effectively with individuals on the spectrum.
At the Broward Sheriff’s Office, we understand the importance of autism awareness in public safety. We have instituted proactive programs and initiatives and continue to provide specialized training to assist our first responders in serving this population better.
Our most progressive initiative is the implementation of the BSO Cares program. The program provides first responders with important information about persons with disabilities so we can respond more appropriately to calls for service. Participation in the program is voluntary and available to anyone who resides in or frequently visits Broward County with a special needs diagnosis. To learn more about the program, or to register yourself or a loved one, please visit www.sheriff.org/BSOCares.
We also continue to ensure more first responders receive Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. This unique training enhances the understanding of the signs and symptoms of someone with behavioral health issues. It also helps provide a more prepared and aware approach when interacting with an individual on the spectrum.
BSO is honored to have some incredible community partnerships with organizations such as Surfers for Autism and Autism in Flight with JetBlue. Surfers for Autism is a community event that gives individuals with autism a chance to learn to surf. Autism in Flight provides a full airport experience for children with autism and their families. They go through check-in and ticketing, security, boarding and a taxiway ride on the tarmac. The program aims to make the prospect of a commercial flight less intimidating.
At BSO, we will continue to work hard to further develop these essential programs and partnerships. Our goal is to ensure all persons are served with respect and protected in the safest possible manner.
Service Equals Reward
Sheriff Gregory Tony
I am so proud and honored to work alongside the remarkable women who serve in departments across the Broward Sheriff's Office. In recognition of Women's History Month, I want to take this opportunity to highlight just a few of the extraordinary women of BSO making a difference throughout this community.
There's a good reason Deputy Vickie Kendrick was recognized as the 2019 BSO Department of Detention Employee of the Year. She is a dedicated, hardworking and selfless individual who gives her best to everyone she encounters, both on and off the job. At work, she is a leader in every sense of the word, serving as a mentor to new deputies who join the team. While off duty, Deputy Kendrick uses her time and resources to help families in Broward. From ensuring kids have clothes and supplies each school year to assisting with gifts and meals during the holiday season, her mantra is: "I am blessed, and I want the children in the community to know that someone cares." Deputy Kendrick's commitment to service is a true testament to her personal and professional success.
For nearly 18 years, Fire Rescue Public Education Manager Courtney Palmer has helped develop a public education program that is second to none. Despite COVID-19 restricting in-person instruction, Courtney and her incredible team, who also happen to be women – Life Safety Educators Melanie Brocato, Rebecca Lowe-Johnson and Leah Wilson – have evolved and adapted, developing new, creative learning opportunities in our virtual world. Collectively, they have hosted thousands of people in their virtual firehouse tours, hands-only CPR and bleeding control courses. "We are busier than ever," Courtney says. A champion of good causes, she also chairs BSO's new LGBTQ+ Liaison Committee and donates her time, energy, and even her hair, to charitable causes. "I really should get a T-shirt that reads: Stop me from volunteering," she jokes. "But I just love helping any way I can."
I know few people who have the poise, grace, determination and leadership necessary to tackle the tremendous challenges we've all faced this past year; Captain Renee Peterson is one of them. As captain of the Neighborhood Support Team, she has been a lifeline to our communities. Since March 2020, she and her team have helped put food on the table for thousands of Broward residents through Operation Helping Hands, a partnership with Feeding South Florida. During the social justice protests last summer, Captain Peterson's focus was rooted in quelling unrest, listening to our communities and creating new opportunities for understanding. Today, she leads BSO's groundbreaking Social Justice Task Force. "We all benefit when we work together to build a better understanding of each other," she says. Day or night, Captain Peterson is out in the community listening, collaborating and working together to establish positive change.
In her 26 years with BSO, Jennifer Bourgouin serves as our agency's Emergency Management Program Coordinator. Providing essential administrative and managerial support for the Emergency Management Program, Jennifer faced a new challenge this past year with the COVID-19 pandemic. Accustomed to short-term, in-person activations in the Sheriff's Emergency Operation Center (SEOC), Jennifer was able to adapt quickly, successfully implementing a remote emergency response. "I am very proud of how we came together as a response team," she says. "Every disaster is different, but I'm confident that through our training and preparedness efforts, we can handle anything." As our battle against COVID-19 persists, Jennifer's supportive efforts continue in the SEOC.
The remarkable women highlighted here are just a few of the many others who serve across BSO. Their dedication to service is unrivalled. I genuinely believe that our organization and our community are better because of their service.
Service Equals Reward
Sheriff Gregory Tony
Three years have passed since the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The memories of the 17 innocent lives taken from us on that terrible day live on in our hearts and our actions. Never again. Those two words gain more importance as time passes. As the freshman class from that year graduates and moves on to new and exciting endeavors, our work to safeguard our schools continues.
Training and preparedness are vital to that mission. As one of the nation's largest sheriff's offices, we strive to be the best equipped and most prepared organization in the country. Today, I am happy to say that we are exceeding standards and continuously raising the bar.
After a thorough, critical and honest self-evaluation, we have introduced numerous improvements and initiatives to strengthen our training and readiness. The Broward Sheriff's Office is the first agency in Florida to have a nationally-certified active shooter training unit. In collaboration with our federal partners, BSO has certified instructors in Active Shooter and Basic Tactical Medical Response, the FBI ALERRT Program and Incident Command Structure. And for the first time in BSO history, we have broken ground on a state-of-the-art training center.
These changes are significantly contributing to safer schools and safer communities. But it's just the beginning. I am excited to share some details about BSO's new Department of Preparedness and Response, a critical evolution that better addresses today's public safety challenges and enhances operational readiness.
Established in June 2020, the department centralizes our agency's training efforts and the deployment of our special operations units to maximize response capabilities. Previously, training had been fragmented, leading to inconsistency and lack of continuity in training protocols. By putting training under one umbrella, we optimize our capabilities, resulting in superior service to Broward County. The new department also provides for greater accountability. Whereas previous training records would only show someone attended training, each person is now independently evaluated on course performance objectives.
Another aspect of the department is the new Threat Intervention Tactics Analytics Network (TITAN). This intelligence-led policing unit works to mitigate terrorism and acts of violence throughout Broward County. Comprised of a full-time SWAT team — the first in BSO history — the unit provides high visibility and tactical security in critical infrastructure locations, including airports and seaports, throughout the county. Should there be a critical, mass casualty incident, this highly-trained unit will facilitate an immediate tactical deployment.
TITAN personnel also work to mentor others throughout BSO. TITAN responds to any incident that requires four or more deputies. The team reinforces training and helps establish proper procedures and protocols during small-scale incidents so deputies are better prepared and ready to respond appropriately during more critical events.
"Establishing Incident Command is vital during critical incidents," said Colonel Steve Robson, who leads the Department of Preparedness and Response. "The onsite training provides deputies with the opportunity to experience the type of response necessary should we have another incident like Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Everyone knows what to do and can perform as expected."
The department is also ensuring our first responders have what they need to perform their jobs. As other public safety agencies, government entities and healthcare systems scrambled to procure critical personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Preparedness and Response, in partnership with the county, is establishing a strategic stockpile of PPE for all first responders in Broward. This is another first time preparedness initiative created by BSO. As the county's lead public safety agency, we should never rely on state or federal partners to provide the equipment necessary to ensure our community's safety.
The department is aligned to ensure preparedness and accountability to address today's public safety threats. Their structure draws attention as a flagship model for other public safety agencies around the country looking to implement similar changes. I am proud of our efforts and will always work toward implementing best practices to safeguard this community.
Service Equals Reward
Sheriff Gregory Tony
On January 5, I will take the oath of office to continue serving as your sheriff. My swearing-in ceremony will be a much less extravagant affair than those of sheriffs' past due to COVID-19 restrictions. Perhaps an intimate setting is more appropriate, regardless. The oath of office is a sacred trust. It is a promise I make to myself and my fellow first responders. It is also a promise I make to you.
I recently removed the placard with my name on it from the front of my office door. I replaced it with a more suitable designation: "The People's Office." The sheriff and all the men and women of the Broward Sheriff's Office work for you and our mission every day, to provide this county with the best public safety services in the country.
When I assumed command of BSO nearly two years ago, I did so with the promise of putting public safety before all else. In just a short time, we've made significant progress in achieving our goals. Better training, better equipment and the introduction of new technologies mean Broward County is safer today.
I have also worked with command staff and community leaders to create a more transparent and accountable sheriff's office while providing public safety all residents can trust.
I've appointed new members to the BSO Professional Standards Committee, including members from the community, to review internal disciplinary matters. I have established a Use of Force Review Board, the first ever in BSO's history. I've made it clear time and again, I will never tolerate egregious use of force under my leadership.
Our Social Justice Task Force recently met for the first time. The group, comprised of BSO employees, community stakeholders, organizers and leaders, will build relationships, gain trust and bridge the gap with the communities we serve. The task force will meet every other month to listen, learn and cooperate toward the shared goal of a safer, collaborative community.
While we have achieved success, we can and will continue to do better. I will spend my next four years in office the same as my first two, working in the best interest of the people I serve.
This year, I am establishing the BSO Office of Inspector General (OIG). The department will ensure BSO runs in the most efficient, economical and responsible way possible. The OIG will ensure misconduct allegations made against employees are thoroughly investigated, identify ways BSO can be more cost-efficient in all areas of operation and conduct independent reviews of every department within BSO to ensure we exceed public safety standards. This is just one more way BSO will be accountable and transparent.
As we enter a new year, I want to say thank you. Thank you for entrusting me with the responsibility to lead BSO into the future. Thank you because this is your office as much as it is mine. Together, we will continue our great work and focus on taking the necessary steps toward keeping public safety a priority.
Service Equals Reward
Sheriff Gregory Tony
This year has been met with a whirlwind of emotion. For some, fear, loss,
loneliness, isolation and anxiousness may define their year. For others, joy,
appreciation, comfort and family. And for many, a mixture of both. But if 2020
taught us one thing, it’s that we always accomplish more as a unified community.
As the year unfolded, COVID-19 changed how all of us live and work. We have all
had to find ways to adapt to what has become our new normal. Yet, despite the
many changes in work and personal lives, countless good people in Broward County
have continued to take every opportunity to give back, help meet a need, show
support, extend resources and virtually come together.
Despite the push for physical distancing, I’ve witnessed people taking every
opportunity to give back, help meet a need, show support, extend resources and
virtually come together.
As a public safety agency, we know public safety isn’t only about protecting our
citizens but striving to better our communities. I am moved by the overwhelming
generosity and heartfelt acts of kindness from the men and women of BSO. Aside
from their primary responsibilities, these individuals looked for alternative
ways to serve this community.
From helping a homeless mother and child pay for a hotel stay for a week to
helping a single mother who lost her job get her electricity turned back on, our
deputies found ways to help where it was needed most. Other deputies gifted a
homeless father of two young children with new shoes and socks for his kids.
Another employee from our Civil Division spearheaded a food collection drive
resulting in the donation of more than 800 pounds of food to provide for those
in need. These acts demonstrate true care and commitment and highlight the
exceptional ways in which our personnel go above and beyond – not just today,
but every day.
These generous acts of kindness were also displayed by the community towards law
enforcement. From countless cards, crafts, prayers and delicious meals donated
from local restaurants and community residents, our agency has received an
overwhelming show of support and appreciation from this community. A young
11-year-old boy named Zechariah, who runs in honor of fallen heroes, added two
more miles to his 609-mile record to remember the lives of Deputy Shannon
Bennett and Lt. Al Rengifo, who we lost earlier this year. During times of
protests and nationwide unrest, we had an opportunity to listen. We prayed
together. We dialogued. We came together in support of equality and justice for
Witnessing these genuine acts of goodness take place across this county during a
time when it is needed most has been a heartwarming experience. People simply
helping people. People whose names they may never know and who they may never
meet. But giving back and showing support because it’s the benevolent thing to
do. It’s things like this that truly make Broward County a special place to
At BSO, we, too, have worked through this pandemic and looked for opportunities
to identify areas where we may help lessen the burden on residents across
Broward County. Through Operation Helping Hands and our food drives, BSO has
partnered with community-based organizations to provide groceries and individual
meals to thousands of individuals and families experiencing financial hardships
countywide. This assistance will continue as long as there is a need in this
In the spirit of the season, we have continued our tradition of partnering with
local organizations and the Broward Sheriff’s Advisory Council to provide
turkeys and Thanksgiving meal baskets to families in need. For the first time,
our Department of Detention personnel volunteered to distribute more than 300
Thanksgiving meals donated by Calvary Chapel to families of inmates housed at
Broward jails. The hope was to ease the financial burden and alleviate the
stress associated with having a loved one incarcerated.
Our holiday outreach will continue during the month of December in partnership
with the Sheriff’s Foundation of Broward County. Though our annual in-person
Shop with the Sheriff event is canceled, we still believe it is important to
reward students who excel in and out of the classroom. This year, 400 deserving
youth will receive a Walmart gift card along with a new toy donated by BSO
personnel as part of our agency-wide toy drive.
And with that, I say what else? I want to go the extra mile and extend this
offer to you. If you know a family who could use some support and cheer this
holiday season, BSO wants to know about it. For a chance to be selected, please
follow me on social media @bsosherifftony and send a message about why this
family should be chosen. The winner will be contacted by December 13.
I’m inspired by this community’s display of unity and brotherhood. I couldn’t be
more proud and honored to serve alongside such dedicated and incredible people.
On behalf of the men and women of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, from our family
to yours, we wish you a safe, healthy and fulfilling holiday season!
At the Broward Sheriff’s Office, we strive to exceed all expectations and live up to the highest industry standards so we can provide Broward County with the best, most prepared and accountable public safety services. I am excited and proud to announce that BSO received final approval for full law enforcement accreditation last month by the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation (CFA).
As many of you know, BSO lost its accreditation last year due to systemic failures in leadership related to active shooter preparedness and response protocols regarding the 2017 Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shooting and the 2018 tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. While accreditation is not mandatory, it is nonetheless vital in maintaining the high standards of a modern, progressive public safety agency. Accreditation is awarded upon the successful demonstration of excellence in leadership, resource management, service delivery and adherence to a body of stringent standards, which represent the very best in law enforcement today.
Disappointed in the loss of accreditation, it fueled us as an organization to quickly rebuild the trust and confidence we lost and return to being a model of what a public safety agency should look like. Instead of waiting the full two years to reapply for reaccreditation, I requested an earlier review by the commission, who performed a thorough review and assessment earlier this year. Thanks to advancements in our active shooter training, changes in policy and protocols, investments in technology and most importantly our dedicated employees, the CFA assessors found BSO to be 100 percent in compliance with all mandatory standards. CFA Assessment Team Leader Sgt. Frank Ruggiero further noted, “The Broward County Sheriff’s Office appears to be an excellently managed agency with members that are extremely proud to be part of it.”
In addition, I am honored to recognize the attainment of two additional accreditations earned earlier this summer.
The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA) recommended BSO’s Regional Communications for reaccreditation. BSO’s Regional Communications is the largest CALEA accredited communications center under the Public Safety Communications Accreditation Program. BSO’s Pretrial Services and Probation divisions also earned full reaccreditation from The Florida Corrections Accreditation Commission (FCAC) for their compliance with rigorous standards and industry best practices.
In total, BSO holds, or maintains, 16 accreditations across the agency including the Department of Law Enforcement, Department of Detention, Community Programs, Crime Lab, Biometrics Unit, Training Division, Regional Communications, Purchasing and Fire Rescue and Emergency Services.
I am proud of the work the men and women of BSO perform daily to protect and serve the Broward community. I pledge to continue to hold our organization to the highest standards. To learn more about our accreditations, please visit us online at www.sheriff.org/Administration/Pages/Accreditation.aspx or call the Division of Policy & Accountability at 954-831-8930.
Service Equals Reward
Sheriff Gregory Tony
It is with great excitement that I announce the launch of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Social Justice Task Force (SJTF), a civilian and law enforcement collaboration that will help our Broward communities achieve greater justice and equity.
Comprised of a diverse group of BSO personnel, community activists, religious leaders and members of various community organizations, the task force seeks to improve relationships, gain trust and bridge the gap with the communities we serve. The SJTF will assist BSO’s efforts to make a meaningful difference and address concerns in a timely manner — benefitting our agency and Broward’s communities.
This task force is part of BSO’s ongoing commitment to accountability and transparency. The civil unrest of recent years has exposed a deep disconnect and distrust between residents and law enforcement that oftentimes leads to dire and preventable consequences. By building community trust, we can prevent isolated incidents from spiraling downhill.
But, to accomplish this, we must work together. The goal of the SJTF is to allow for education and open dialogue with the community as we work toward making a difference and building trust. SJTF members are activists who are engaged in their community and are invested in making a difference. These leaders want to help, and we are putting them to work in their communities. “We’re not just listening to concerns but doing something about them,” said Captain Renee Peterson, who is spearheading the SJTF. “It’s one thing to get out there with protesters and let them know we support them. But we need to have real dialogue that actually moves the dial.”
The SJTF will meet every other month. Participants will also have the opportunity to get a backstage look at what we actually do. They’ll do ride-alongs with our deputies, and every meeting will have an educational component, including topics such as de-escalation, to share and bring back to their community. Most importantly, we will learn about concerns and develop effective ways to address them together.
So far, the task force has been met with overwhelming support, and we are already at capacity. However, if you would like more information about joining in the future, or to be placed on the waiting list, please call 954-321-4412 or 954-321-4410 or visit www.sheriff.org/TaskForce.
At BSO, we are always striving to be the most transparent and accountable agency in the country — and the Social Justice Task Force is a giant step toward making that a reality. I believe when we come together, we can accomplish greater things. I am excited for the positive change we will be making together.
Service Equals Reward
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our way of life and how we go about our daily routines. For many, kitchen and dining room tables have become the new office, classroom or social meeting place. Virtual is the new reality, and while it allows us to continue to work, learn and socialize safely, it comes with its own unique set of challenges and dangers.
As we transition to using more online platforms, scammers, hackers and other cybercriminals are finding new, lucrative and sometimes dangerous ways to target people. At the Broward Sheriff’s Office, in addition to ensuring the safety of our physical streets, we are also dedicated to protecting our online neighborhoods — especially when it comes to the safety of our children.
With Broward public schools having begun their year fully remote, kids have had to adapt to extended hours behind their digital devices and the increased risks associated with them. It is important that we protect our children’s ability to learn and play online safely.
Recently, we’ve seen an increase in phishing scams through email and text messages. Aside from malware, ransomware, spyware and other dangers designed to steal personal information and money, these scams also pose a significant risk to children, who are perfect targets for identity theft because of their clean credit histories. In 2017, more than one million children were victims of identity theft or fraud, and that number continues to grow.
In addition, with social distancing as the new norm, socialization has turned even more digital than ever before. Parents must pay special attention to who their children are interacting with online and in what manner. Unfortunately, cyberbullying is rampant and has been linked to a variety of negative effects, including anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
Here are some important reminders on what you can do to help keep your children safe:
- Always be aware, and monitor what your children are doing on all their devices.
- Always keep close tabs on who your child is interacting with online.
- Look out for anything that is out of the ordinary, including unusual messages, advertisements and emails.
- Keep your firewall, antivirus, antispyware and operating system up to date.
- Ensure your child’s social media accounts are set to private and accessible only to pre-approved family and friends.
- Make sure your child never gives your home address or location to anyone they meet online.
- Have a talk with them, and reinforce a basic practice of online safety: think before you click.
We are living in unprecedented times with unfamiliar threats. But by being vigilant and prudent, we can keep our kids and our community safe from cybercrime.
Sheriff Gregory Tony
This year, our nation – our world – has been faced with unprecedented challenges. From a global health crisis to civil unrest and the reminder of inequalities for people of color, our strength, our faith and our wills have all been tested. As we enter the eight month of 2020, I gain strength from the opportunities before us. The opportunity to listen. To grow. To mend. And to change. In the last 18 months, I have made significant changes that focus on building stronger community relationships and restoring trust by bringing accountability and transparency to the Broward Sheriff’s Office. I have revised policy to establish a Use of Force Review Board, appointed new members to the Professional Standards Committee, established progressive training protocols and improved recruitment practices to ensure we are hiring the most qualified applicants. Despite these advancements, we must do more.
Recently, I’ve had several opportunities to sit down with community leaders and advocates for change to listen to their concerns and discuss areas of strength and opportunities for growth. Our dialogues were progressive, and the BSO command staff and I welcomed their input.
The focus of our discussions was on policing practices. Today, law enforcement remains the only branch of government that is required to respond to every situation where there is an immediate need or threat. Often, these needs are met by people in crisis, who are hurting, who have been wronged, are suffering or have been defrauded. Our deputies are trained in conflict resolution and de-escalation; the majority (soon to be all) are trained in crisis intervention. Yet, as a profession, our policing approaches must continue to evolve.
Since becoming sheriff, I have made a commitment to investing resources in areas where they are needed most. Aside from the aforementioned changes, I have restructured the Law Enforcement Trust Fund process to ensure it is more fair and equitable to serve nonprofit organizations that focus on issues vital to our community. We have established the BSO Legacy Program offering scholarships and internships to minority individuals interested in a career in public safety. We have established a Youth Mentorship Program focused on mentoring youth and developing them into strong, responsible civically-engaged adults.
Change will not come overnight. However, these changes are just the beginning of establishing systemic solutions toward a more unified Broward. I will continue to make progressive changes for the benefit of this community. At BSO, we are listening. We are evolving. We are prioritizing the needs of the people we serve. And we are committed to working together with you to maintain trust and strengthen our community.
Service Equals Reward
Sheriff Gregory Tony
The appalling murder of George Floyd reopened deep and painful wounds in our country. For too long, many people of color have suffered through a separate and unequal system of justice and have been unjust victims of police brutality.
Incidents like this cut particularly deep with me. Before I was Broward’s first black sheriff, I was a black kid from the inner city thrown to the ground by a police officer with a knee pinned to the back of my neck. I understand the distrust some black and brown Americans feel toward law enforcement. We’ve let them down for far too long and have done too little to root out systemic racism from our ranks.
BUT I SAY THIS TO YOU: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
I know we must work hard to rebuild trust with our communities, but changes are being made. Since I became sheriff, I have worked to build public trust by bringing accountability and transparency to this agency and to this community.
Our deputies are held accountable for their actions. On four different occasions, I’ve terminated deputies for use of excessive force. I’ve appointed new members to the Professional Standards Committee, which includes minority members from the community, to review internal disciplinary matters. In addition, I am establishing a Use of Force Review Board, the first ever in BSO’s history. Egregious use of force will not be tolerated under my leadership.
We continue to ensure we are hiring the right people, including more minorities and women, and are providing them with the appropriate training. We are reintegrating a comprehensive Early Warning System to detect potential behaviors that may cause harm to the public. In addition, every deputy in our department continues to be trained in de-escalation techniques along with safe arrest methods. I am also allocating approximately $1 million to implement racial equity and implicit bias training programs. All Department of Law Enforcement deputies have body worn cameras and are required to activate them prior to any interaction with civilians.
I also know one negative incident can erode years of trust. At BSO, community policing is not merely a buzzword. We are working side by side with our communities, listening to your concerns and identifying problems and solutions for BSO involvement in the neighborhoods we serve. This is why our deputies now get out of their patrol cars and walk the neighborhoods they protect, interacting with residents, as part of our Park, Walk and Talk program.
At BSO, we’re making significant changes, and we are one of the most accountable and transparent public safety agencies in the nation. Yet I know there is still work to be done. I challenge our communities not to let incidents like what happened in Minneapolis divide us. I pledge as sheriff to continue to work with our communities and hold ourselves to the highest standards of professionalism and accountability. While I am I’m deeply saddened by the death of George Floyd and others killed unjustly, know this: their deaths will not be forgotten. May their legacies live through our progress.
Service Equals Reward
Sheriff Gregory Tony
Before I begin this message, I want to take a moment to remember a beloved member of the Broward Sheriff’s Office family, Communications Operator III Nikima Thompson, who sadly lost her brave battle with COVID-19 on May 4. Nikima was a dedicated 16-year veteran of BSO and the first communications operator to die in the line of duty in Florida. We pay tribute to her sacrifice and honor her service to this community. She is survived by her mother, Geraldine Wilson, who is also battling COVID-19; her father, Herman Wilson; her sister, Gina Stewart; and her four children, Aran Jr., Isaiah, Justin and Heaven. Rest in peace, Nikima. You are greatly missed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to major disruptions in our traditional way of life and resulted in tremendous hardships for many. For the past several months, we have confronted this unprecedented challenge. As we navigate these uncertain times, we do so having learned the power and value of community and the virtues of working together for a common good.
It has been truly remarkable to see the Broward community step up and come together as one. Friends and strangers alike have united, largely by staying apart, to help slow the spread of this deadly virus and protect the most vulnerable among us. The men and women of BSO share in that commitment. We play a unique and critical role in combatting this crisis. We are not only ensuring the safety of the public, but we are also extending our assistance beyond calls for service to provide support for the overall wellbeing of Broward County.
Let me tell you some ways BSO is meeting community needs:
- The pandemic has led to tough financial difficulties with many people struggling to provide the most basic food necessities for their families. BSO has established Operation Helping Hands whereby we partner with community-based organizations and Feeding South Florida to help provide groceries to those in need. We are also delivering food to the doorsteps of our senior citizens who are unable to leave their homes.
- We know through our community policing initiatives that small and simple acts of kindness can have huge and lasting impact. While social distancing has prevented us from coming together, we have been honored to participate in birthday parades and the like to ensure important milestones are not forgotten, and instead are occasions to remember. Similarly, we’ve participated in heartwarming displays of support for our hospital partners who are on the front lines fighting this virus with us. It has been an absolute pleasure to provide some joy and see the smiles these parades have brought.
- We have witnessed our deputies and other employees go above and beyond the call of duty to help others who are struggling. Recently, deputies observed a mother and her six-year-old son sleeping in their car. After learning they were homeless, the deputies got them a hotel room for the week and bought them groceries. As of our last contact with the woman, she was able to gain employment and is working toward getting on her feet. It’s an honor to work alongside such good and decent people.
- Our participation in the Law Enforcement Torch Run has been a long-standing tradition of ours to support Special Olympics. While the run was canceled this year, we still showed our love and support for these inspirational athletes and participated in virtual runs across the county. As an organization, we remain committed to supporting our community partners and will continue to find creative ways to do so.
- These are just a few examples that demonstrate how together we accomplish more. These past few months have presented us with unexpected circumstances and challenges. While our commitment as an organization to work alongside this community to serve and meet their needs is not new, it is stronger now than ever before.
Service Equals Reward
Sheriff Gregory Tony