Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nassau Sheriff Works for More Interaction with Public; Breaking Down Barriers between His Office and Citizens Is a Key, Seagraves Says

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nassau Sheriff Works for More Interaction with Public; Breaking Down Barriers between His Office and Citizens Is a Key, Seagraves Says

Article excerpt

Byline: JORDAN RODACK

When Tommy Seagraves interviewed for a job with the Nassau County Sheriff's Office 22 years ago, he was asked his professional goals and aspirations.

"To one day become sheriff," Seagraves told them.

They chuckled at his response.

More than two decades later, Seagraves has realized his dream.

Seagraves, who replaced retired Sheriff Ray Geiger, outdistanced a host of candidates in the Republican primary before easily winning the general election in November.

But the transition hasn't necessarily been easy.

In March, a deputy on the force was charged with using his position in the Sheriff's Office to buy more than 14,000 cellular phones at a significant discount and then selling them for a large profit. He is awaiting trial.

In July, deputies arrested a widow at her husband's funeral and accused her of plying him with prescription drugs that contributed to his death. But an autopsy released last week found no signs of the drug in his body and she was released from jail.

The criminal charges against her most likely will be dropped.

Also last week, the legal adviser Seagraves hired 2 1/2 months ago was arrested and charged with disorderly intoxication, trespassing and resisting an officer without violence. Seagraves said when he hired her, those who knew her gave glowing recommendations.

Seagraves said that in each instance, the situation was handled properly.

He said he spends weeks working without a day off. And while the county isn't a hotbed for serious crime, there's still plenty of work to do.

A lifelong Nassau County resident, Seagraves realizes all too well how quickly the county is growing and along with it, the role of the Sheriff's Office.

And while major crimes are rare, drug offenses are the biggest challenge facing the department, he said.

During his first seven months in office, there have been about 80 drug busts and roughly $175,000 worth of narcotics taken off the street. The only way to effectively combat drug-related crimes is to get the community itself involved in crime fighting, he said.

Now Seagraves, 43, is trying to carry through with a campaign promise: to knock down the walls between the police and the community.

Prior to taking office, Seagraves said he observed too little community interaction with the Sheriff's Office. So he has taken to the streets in a personal attempt to forge a stronger bond with those he is paid to serve.

Today, you are just as likely to see him at a community cookout as a crime scene.

The Sheriff's Office has also implemented special training for interpersonal skills for deputies and a program where officers check up on the elderly.

Seagraves said he knows how important the community's role is. During his steady climb up the ranks from a corrections officer to detective and then as undersheriff for four years under Geiger, he knows that police cannot be effective without the assistance of citizens. …

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