Bob White ending long run as Pasco sheriff with 'no regrets'
NEW PORT RICHEY - Bob White entered Pasco County politics in 2000. He was 49 and virtually unknown. He had only lived in the county for eight years and his job with the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco took him to Clearwater each day. But White had the key to unlock political doors. More important than his strong presence and affinity for speaking, White had the friendship and backing of Mike Fasano, then a state representative. Fasano first met White in 1995 when he accompanied law enforcement agents on a drug raid. Fasano took to White's genuine personality and the two became friendly.Several years later, White obliged when Fasano asked him to run for Pasco sheriff against Democratic incumbent Lee Cannon. White and Fasano are Republicans. "We needed someone who lived in Pasco but was an outsider from the sheriff's office," Fasano, now a state senator, said last week. "And Bob White was the perfect person in that he had the ability, the knowledge and the experience. And a great name, too." White stunned Cannon in the November 2000 election, starting his more than 10-year run as the county's chief law enforcement officer. That run will close with his retirement this weekend. White will appear at two events Saturday. On Sunday morning, he will attend as his replacement, Pasco sheriff's Maj. Chris Nocco, is sworn in at a local church. Then, White's time is pretty much his own. "This is the first time in my life I get to do what I want to do," he said at his final press conference today. "The only caveat is that I'm married, so I guess I'll do what we want me to do." White, 60, announced his retirement in March, saying he wanted to spend more time with his young granddaughter. On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Nocco to complete the remainder of White's third term, which runs through 2012. White initially resisted giving a final interview, finally agreeing after his office received numerous requests from reporters. He wore a blue suit with a Texas Rangers pin given to him by President George W. Bush on his left lapel. White's trademark ostrich boots were out of view as he sat a conference table. His gray hair was combed straight back and perfectly coifed, as usual. White spoke in his characteristic measured manner, throwing out a few quotables in the 30 minutes he spent answering questions. On his time in office: "I can honestly say I have no regrets. I have no enemies. I've met wonderful people and I've made great friends. There's no way to put a value on that." On the grind of police work: "Law enforcement is not a Chia Pet. You don't pour water on it and it grows overnight. You have to work at it." On the use of deadly force by deputies: "When a bullet comes out of a gun, it's got to be righteous." White said he found a sheriff's office that was "bankrupt" and "starved" culturally when he took over in 2001. Back then, the agency had roughly 1,000 employees and a $50 million budget. Under his leadership, the office has grown to employ nearly 1,300. His year-to-year battles with county commissioners, although often protracted and grueling, have helped expand the department's annual budget to roughly $86 million. The Land O' Lakes Jail was expanded twice under White's watch, bringing an additional 960 beds. A helicopter hangar built with inmate labor opened last month near the jail. White's tenure also saw the formation of the Citizens Service Unit, a volunteer group that assists deputies and now has about 350 members. A salary study in 2005 helped White persuade the county commission to approve money for substantial deputy raises that year. Of course, there were dark days along the way. In 2002, White admitted his office's failure to follow policy might have contributed to the slaying of 16-year-old Joshan Ashbrook. A judge had committed the teen runaway to a substance abuse treatment center but a desk officer never notified a supervisor of the order. Nearly 48 hours passed before anyone noticed the order had not been served, by which time Ashbrook had run away. The teen was found dead a day later. A year later, the sheriff's office suffered a devastating blow when Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison was fatally shot while sitting in his patrol car. Harrison, 57, the county's highest-ranking black deputy, was just days from retirement. White gave a moving eulogy at Harrison's funeral. He recalled Harrison's murder as the most difficult time of his tenure. "That was by far the hardest time," he said. "Still difficult but less stark has been the death of members of this office. It's a difficult thing to watch and it's very draining." Fasano said he will remember White's tenure for the sheriff's laser-like focus on public safety. "There wasn't a time that he and I got together and the conversation didn't start off with him asking, 'What do we need to do to make our community safer and to make certain our deputies are compensated appropriately?'" Fasano said. "I think you can see that with him constantly battling the county administration and the county commissioners. That's something every agency head should do – advocate for their department and employees." [email protected] (813) 731-8098