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Thursday, Jul 27, 2017
Editorials

Sheriff Gee's crime-fighting record

Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee faces only a write-in opponent in this year's election, so his re-election is a virtual certainty. Still, his race for a third term presents a good opportunity to review his record, which will reveal why he faces only a token opponent. Gee runs an efficient, professional operation that has achieved a remarkable drop in crime. Last year major crimes in the county dropped by 15.5 percent, the second-largest drop since 1990. Over the past four years, county crime has dropped nearly 45 percent.
This occurred while the sheriff's office deputy-to-citizen staffing actually decreased to 1.51 deputes per 1,000 citizens. The average ratio for county law enforcement is 2.8 deputies per 1,000 citizens. Hillsborough's ratio had been 1.57 deputies, but with the county facing tough times Gee and his team concentrated on wringing more efficiency out of an already lean operation. Deputies obviously responded. The sheriff credits much of the success in crime-fighting to the use of "intelligence-led policing," where a special unit of analysts and detectives each week tries to identify the top 10 most prolific offenders and then works with street detectives to build cases against them. Gee has sought to control costs in all his operations. For instance, he initiated a number of health insurance changes — eventually moving to a self-insured, self-managed plan. Annual premium increases have been kept under 5 percent, well below the state and national average of between 8 and 12 percent. At the same time, employee benefits were improved. Gee also brought attention to policies that were needlessly driving up taxpayers' costs at the county jail. For one thing, Gee discovered that some convicted criminals who should be in state prison were serving their terms in the jail, at county taxpayers' expense. And Gee, the judiciary, the state attorney, public defender and other criminal justice officials worked together to develop sensible policies to avoid inmates being kept in the jail unnecessarily. The reforms led to a three-year reduction in the county jail population of 876 inmates, saving Hillsborough taxpayers millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on housing, medical care and other costs. The jail, it might be remembered, generated a lot of bad publicity in 2008 when a deputy dumped a disabled man being taken into custody from his wheelchair. Gee's reaction was notable. Rather than being defensive, he took quick action against those at fault and appointed an independent commission to review jail procedures. Recommended policy changes were quickly adopted. Gee's style of leadership could be seen during the recent Republican National Convention, when he accompanied his deputies as they patrolled a midday protest march. He walked beside them, monitored the action and even passed out water when needed. The sheriff generally avoids the limelight. But he is engaged, determined and carefully attends to details — and it is reflected in the department's professionalism and the county's plummeting crime rate.
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