Chris Yates, Flagler County Sheriff Candidate: The Live Interview
FlaglerLive | July 23, 2016
Chris Yates is a candidate for Flagler County Sheriff. He faces five opponents in the Aug. 30 Republican primary, including Donald Fleming, John Lamb, Jerry O’Gara, Rick Staly, and Mark Whisenant. The winner of that primary will face the winner of a Democratic primary featuring two candidates, plus one independent candidate who will also appear on the Nov. 8, general election ballot, Thomas Dougherty. Dougherty is running a self-funded and not very visible campaign.
The Aug. 30 vote is a closed primary: only registered Democrats may vote for the Democratic candidate of their choice, only registered Republicans may vote for the Republican candidate of their choice. Independents and voters registered with minor parties do not get a vote in this particular race until the Nov. 8 general election. Independent voters do get to vote in several other local races that are non-partisan or that will be the equivalent of a general election, including school board, Palm Coast City Council and supervisor of elections.
Of the nine candidates for sheriff, only two, Manfre and Don Fleming, have won elections before. The sheriff’s office has been led by one or the other for the past 16 years, starting with Manfre from 2001 to 2004, then Fleming for eight years, then Manfre again starting in 2013. The race has drawn the most candidates for any single local office, and generated the most expensive campaigns, with total fund-raising (and loans from candidates to themselves) exceeding $200,000 between them, as of mid-July.
The sheriff is paid 126,123 a year. The salary is set by the state based on the county’s population, but paid out of local dollars. The winner will serve a four-year term, controlling a current budget of $25 million, 255 full-time employees and 30 part-time employees.
FlaglerLive submitted identical questions to all candidates, with the understanding that additional questions might be tailored to candidates individually and some follow-up questions may be asked, with all exchanges on the record. The Live Interview’s aim is to elicit as much candor and transparency as possible. We have asked candidates to refrain from making campaign speeches or make lists of accomplishments. We have also asked candidates to reasonably document any claim or accusation. Undocumented claims are edited out. Answers are also edited for length, redundancy, relevance and, where possible, accuracy. If a candidate does not answer a question or appears to be evading a question, that’s noted.
But it’s ultimately up to the reader to judge the quality and sincerity of a candidate’s answers.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- What qualifies you to run?
- Character and temperament
- Policing needs
- Sheriff’s evaluation
- Police shootings
- Black fears
- War on drugs and pot
- Best police agency
- Internal affairs
Place and Date of Birth: Daytona Beach, Florida – February 15, 2977
Current job: Police Lieutenant – City of Holly Hill Police Department
Party Affiliation: Republican
Net Worth: (See the financial disclosure) $85,000.00
As a decorated member of the Holly Hill Police Department’s senior command staff, I have earned a strong reputation in the regional law enforcement community for fairness, firmness, and a strong personal connection to the diverse community I serve. Throughout my law enforcement career, my service has been driven by results.
Through advanced training and hands-on operational experience, I have become highly adept at providing the full range of key organizational services, with a demonstrated stability under pressure and a proven reputation for diplomacy, ethical decision making, strategic planning and professionalism. I know what it means to serve the community on the front lines, and in the administrative and ceremonial role as well.
It has been my honor and extraordinary privilege to earn the trust and respect of the people I serve – and the men and women behind the badge.
But as with a few of other candidates running, you lack managerial experience of any sort, and the sheriff’s office is the third-largest public business in Flagler. How will you compensate?
Chris Yates did not answer the question.
2. Describe your character and temperament, and what people you’ve worked with—or citizens you’ve interacted with—would say are your most serious personal flaws, in so far as how they affect your job. What do you do to address those flaws?
I was raised in a hardworking family, learning the building trades in my father’s construction business. Early on I learned the value of achieving goals through hard work.
I often credit this formative experience with shaping my strong character, work ethic, and passion for providing top quality service. In fact, it was this early commitment to serving others that led me to a career in law enforcement.
While I consider myself relatively self-aware, the question of how others might see me is a difficult one to answer objectively. Please understand, I am not without personal flaws – none of us is – but if I had to pick one or two that I feel have affected me professionally, it would be taking on too much and stretching myself thin.
The art of delegation is something I continue to struggle with in a professional environment. My early influences demanded a high level of precision and I often spend an inordinate amount of time ensuring that my personal work product meets expectations. Obviously, this can be a problem in terms of time management in completing goals and objectives or when meeting deadlines is important. This can be stressful and sometimes counter-productive. Perhaps this stems from a desire to impress those I serve – but it can be problematic.
I recognize it and I am working hard to correct it. One thing I have found that helps is developing positive self-critique skills – asking yourself proper internal questions to gauge the effectiveness of your efforts, time-management skills, anticipating problems, and ensuring that the right assets are being employed. It’s called strategic thinking and it is a developed skill. I also tend to be rather quiet and reserved at social functions.
As you can imagine many candidates tend with this question to confuse qualities with flaws: both flaws you describe can be fairly regarded as qualities that we all wish our children, our employees or our leaders possessed–hard work, modesty, a sense of reserve about oneself. Even in excess, it’s difficult to see those as character flaws. But as a potential leader of a large agency the question remains: where in your day to day dealings with the public or colleagues do you see what your employer might describe as “needs improvement,” or where you may have been verbally or otherwise counseled? (Again, the question goes not to your personal, but exclusively to your professional, public life.)
Chris Yates did not answer the question.
Lord Acton wrote that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Fortunately, modern law enforcement agencies – including the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office – are subject to external oversight. But all the watchdogs in the world fall short of having an ethical chief executive who demands strict adherence to professional standards and sets the tone by his or her personal example.
Frankly, I don’t consider the power of the office. I consider the privilege of serving. Like the citizens we serve, law enforcement officers – including the elected sheriff – are required to follow the rules and the law, and to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects the highest standards and ideals of the public service. In addition, state and federal oversight is important to maintaining the public trust, and the accreditation process helps ensure compliance with professional standards for both the law enforcement and corrections areas of responsibility. I believe that the best indicator of how an individual will react to the great power bestowed on law enforcement officers is that persons past performance when faced with temptations. Did they live up to their sworn obligations as gentlemen and law enforcement officers, or did they abuse the public trust?
My personal and professional record speaks for itself.
1. To provide law enforcement and support services to the citizens of Flagler County in the most effective and efficient means possible.
Staffing levels at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office are well below the national average. At certain times of the day, there are approximately eleven deputies covering the entire City of Palm Coast and all unincorporated areas of Flagler County. That’s a safety concern – for our deputies, and our residents. We have to work smarter and make the very best use of our limited assets. I have experience in the development and implementation of one of the most effective emerging trends in law enforcement which incorporates risk-based deployment based upon intelligence-led policing strategies. Through the close and continuous analysis of both historical and current crime trends; an emphasis on removing habitual offenders from our communities; and by focusing operational assets on identified hotspots and areas where our predictive modeling indicates the potential for criminal activity, we can work smarter and much more effectively.
2. Restore the public’s trust and confidence in the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. In my view, this is one of the most important challenges I will face as the new sheriff. I have received official commendations for my ethical decisions – and for setting the right example for my subordinates. It’s simple really, do the right thing – for the right reasons – and treat everyone as you wish to be treated. It’s the basis of a strong moral compass and the Golden Rule of public service. I will lead by example. I will return dignity to the Office of Sheriff – and I will restore the public’s trust in FCSO.
3. The restoration and development of professional relationships between FCSO and outside law enforcement agencies, the Office of the State Attorney, and our stakeholders in the community. In law enforcement, building strong relationships is an essential component of success. Under the current administration, external communication and the department’s professional rapport with other agencies, our citizens, and the State Attorney’s Office continue to deteriorate. That’s unfortunate, and counterproductive to the mission of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. As your Sheriff, I will work hard from day one to rebuild our departments’ relationship with the State Attorney’s Office, all state, federal and local law enforcement agencies, the Department of Children and Families, the Child Protection Team, and other public and social service agencies. In addition, I will work with the State Attorney to assign FCSO criminal investigators to work hand-in-hand with SAO personnel to effectively investigate and prosecute organized criminal activity, dangerous drug offenses, and remove habitual felony offenders from our streets.
It all starts with trust. We build quality relationships based upon our professional reputation for values-oriented service. Unfortunately, the continuing allegations of ethical misconduct by the current and former administrations have undermined these important relationships. Let’s face it, who wants to be associated with that?
Habitual offenders are by definition an issue. We have a few. But current law and the State Attorney’s office decisions–whether to file charges or not–, not deputies, decide when the habitual offenders may be back on the streets. How would you change that? Your second and third points are closely related, and it’s assumed that any sheriff’s administration would conduct itself along those lines. But the answers do not provide us a sense of your priorities as a sheriff regarding what matters to residents even above intramural issues: controlling or lowering the crime, anticipating deteriorating trends, policing Palm Coast as effectively as the rest of the county, contending with additional demands on the public dime, and so on. Where do your priorities fall within those concerns?
Chris Yates did not answer the question.
5. Give us your geographically precise and documented summary of where you see the county’s and Palm Coast’s greatest law enforcement needs, how those needs compare with the way personnel is currently assigned, and what you would do differently, if anything.
This is a difficult, if not impossible, question to answer for someone outside the agency. Like most citizens of Flagler County, my only direct knowledge of current deployment strategies is limited to anecdotal information, observations, the speculation of my neighbors and what I read in the press. The fact is, we don’t know with certainty how the current administration addresses crime trends and vulnerabilities.
Most recently, we received a warning in the Daytona Beach News-Journal after 29 vehicular burglaries and four stolen cars were reported in the Z, S, R, W, and B Sections of Palm Coast. This is in addition to the recurring residential and commercial burglaries countywide. Once I have the opportunity to analyze reported criminal activity, determine the agency’s level of criminal intelligence capabilities, review staff allocations, and study current deployment strategies I will be in a better position to assess what changes will more effectively address current and historical trends.
6. Putting aside ethical issues that have affected the current and previous sheriff—and that have been amply treated in the press and elsewhere—what are three community-related issues the sheriff has handled well, and three that he’s handled poorly.
I don’t see anything the current sheriff has done well. It’s one of the key reasons that I am seeking the office – in my view, it’s been a disaster.
For the record – you simply cannot put aside the egregious ethical issues that have dogged the current and former sheriff. In my view, that is simply not possible in the context of this political race. People are tired of it. I also believe that the great strength of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office is the quality and talent of its people – the deputies and outstanding support staff who have served this county extremely well under difficult, demanding and often embarrassing circumstances. Like the citizens of Flagler County – they deserve better. They deserve strong leadership, and if elected, I plan on returning that important quality to Flagler County.
There are inherent contradictions here, and not just because people are tired of the ethical issues, as you said (we are too), which is why we’re past asking about the obvious: we want ethical leadership. That’s a given. Manfre screwed up. That’s a given. He’s paying a heavy price that may well include losing the office in November. That, too, is clear. It’d be too easy to float a question to elicit obvious answers. But to say that you don’t see “anything the current sheriff has done well” contradicts your acknowledgment that he has at least done well enough to allow the deputies and staff to serve the county “extremely well.” It also suggests a disconnect with the past few years’ accomplishments at the agency, whatever one may think of the sheriff–the agency’s accreditation, the new jail, the operations center, the improved swifter handling of Baker Act cases. Do none of these accomplishments rate? And if he has done so poorly–again, ethics aside–could you not list three specific examples of that?
Chris Yates did not answer the question.
7. Turnover has been steep. The average years of experience of deputies on the street has fallen, exposing the public to generally younger, possibly more gung-ho but less seasoned deputies. To what do you attribute the turnover, and what specific steps will you take to reduce turn-over and add experience to our streets?
The citizens of Flagler County deserve the “best and brightest” career public servants. Unfortunately, given the current environment, and deteriorating reputation of the agency, the FCSO is having a difficult time recruiting and retaining quality personnel.
As your Sheriff, I will create a recruitment team composed of deputies, members of the command staff, civilian support personnel, and interested citizens. This team will be tasked with seeking out quality individuals with the skills we need for success. We will regularly visit surrounding law enforcement academies, career expos, and our recently separated military veterans to recruit only the very best career-oriented public servants. Under my leadership, we will create an environment and professional reputation that encourages quality recruitment for FCSO while ensuring that only the “Best of the Best” applicants are accepted into our service.
I believe morale in a law enforcement agency is best defined as the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend the peace and security of our communities. In my view, that level of personal commitment deserves our respect and appreciation. Organizational confidence is a key reason good people leave.
My vision for the future allows everyone in the organization to take ownership in the growth and development of the agency. We need their unique perspective on ways we can improve our service delivery in the future. We do this by listening to those who actually do the job, by forming internal committees and working groups to discuss agency needs, working conditions, employees concerns, and allow personnel at all levels to participate in the budgetary process. This creates buy-in and a sense that diverse opinions are valued.
FCSO has several special assignments within the department (i.e. Dive Team, SWAT, Motorcycles, K-9, etc.) that provide specialized law enforcement and forensic services. Other than the Criminal Investigations Division, employees in specialized assignments do not receive incentive pay commensurate with their special skills. Many surrounding law enforcement agencies recognize the need to incentivize and encourage specialized training and assignments. Most departments offer a 5% to 7% stipend for these very important special assignments.
As your Sheriff, I will implement an incentive pay program for deputies who go above and beyond to step forward for these often dangerous and highly technical assignments. In my view, it’s a matter of fairness – and a logical motivation to keep our highly skilled employees at FCSO.
8. Since Sheriff Manfre took over, not a single individual has been killed, shot, or shot at by a Flagler County deputy in Flagler County. (One individual shot himself in a stand-off with deputies in November 2013, and ex-Flagler deputy Daniel Ruddell was shot at last November as he attempted to flee from deputies, including Flagler deputies, in St. Johns County). But there were at least four documented instances of armed individuals who were peacefully apprehended after stand-offs or confrontations. That’s in contrast with numerous police shootings in Volusia and St. Johns over the same period, at a time when police have been under greater scrutiny because of such shootings. To what do you attribute the way Flagler deputies have bucked the trend, and what will you do to ensure that this, as opposed to a more violent, norm, continues?
Law enforcement-involved shootings occur for a variety of reasons. In the overwhelming majority of these instances, officers, deputies and agents act instinctively – and heroically – in defense of themselves and others. The tragedy at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub is just one example of law enforcement going in harm’s way, putting their lives on the line to protect others with the life-saving tools of our trade.
As previously stated, Flagler County has some outstanding deputies and supervisory personnel in their service. I think the way these instances were handled locally are nothing short of heroic and extraordinarily professional. Our goal, first and foremost, is to save lives.
In my experience, the key to successfully deescalating potentially lethal encounters is through effective and continuous training. As a Florida certified law enforcement training official, I know the important benefits of advanced educational opportunities for law enforcement officers. Professional development is a key organizational component, and it is another major reason why good deputies and civilian support personnel commit to – or depart – an organization.
As your Sheriff, I will transform the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office into the premier law enforcement educational and training facility in the region. By hosting advanced in-service training courses and seminars, we can take advantage of free tuition for our personnel, allowing for advanced educational opportunities for FCSO deputies at virtually no direct cost to the taxpayer. When coupled with other state and federal funding opportunities, we can drastically improve the training FCSO personnel need and deserve.
9. Ta-Nehisi Coates tells his teen-age son, in his National Book Award-winning “Between the World and Me” (2015): “Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that America made. That is a philosophy of the disembodied, of a people who control nothing, who can protect nothing, who are made to fear not just the criminals among them but the police who lord over them with all the moral authority of a protection racket.” Is Coates wrong? Putting what Coates tells his son in the context of a county that was last to desegregate in Florida, and that still has an overwhelmingly white sheriff’s office, tell us how you’d reassure parents of young black men in this community.
The confines of this political interview do not provide an adequate nor constructive space to debate Mr. Coates’ views. In my view, there is very little hope in Mr. Coates’ thoughts, and I am by my nature an optimist. But again, I’m not sure this is the forum for that conversation.
In terms of police-community relations, obviously there is a great divide in many areas of our nation. These are serious societal questions that we all hold an important role in answering – especially those of us in law enforcement. I would reassure the parents of all young men and women that under my command, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office will be fundamentally – and universally – committed to preserving and protecting the Constitutional rights of everyone. It is the very foundation of our system of justice. My promise to all citizens of Flagler County is that I will set the example for my deputies to follow, and we will strive every day to bridge the gaps that divide us – and work diligently to build on the common virtues, hopes and dreams that unite us all.
You have as much space as you need, and this is very much the forum for the conversation, as our law enforcement leadership is at the center of the very conversation that needs to be had, especially in the context of a campaign for office, when we can best find out what our candidates believe: if not now, when? So while acknowledging the reassuring promises of your second paragraph, the question remains: Is Coates, in your estimation, wrong, and if so, how?
Chris Yates did not answer the question.
10. If you were to give a grade to the war on drugs as it’s been conducted since Nixon, what would that grade be, and why? Putting aside what the law is at the moment, do you think casual pot users—the occasional reefer smoker, the person caught with a few joints—should be criminally charged and jailed, as opposed to issued civil citations? What role should officer discretion play in criminally charging casual pot users?
The letter grade, in my evaluation of the “war on drugs,” must be an unfortunate “F.”
In my view, the very basis of our tactics and strategy – both domestically and internationally – can be equated to the textbook definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over-and-over again while expecting a different result. I believe that, based upon current societal trends, Floridian’s face the very real possibility of the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana – if not open legalization – within the next five years (or sooner.) Many people are increasingly open to the possibility of medicinal marijuana – and clearly social mores are increasingly supportive of decriminalization/legalization. I publicly support a reform of marijuana laws in terms of the controlled medicinal use of cannabis and its derivatives. I also support the use of civil citations for addressing the possession of personal consumption amounts of marijuana, both as a means of reducing the load on our court system and ensuring a more appropriate means of sanction.
Obviously, sound judgment and proper discretion in the administration of justice is important. I believe that the vast majority of law enforcement officers use responsible judgment and tact when addressing a variety of minor offenses and infractions.
Under my administration, the use of the civil citation system will be the preferred means of dealing with minor (misdemeanor) marijuana violations. I also strongly feel that fines resulting from the use of civil citations in marijuana cases should be allocated to assisting drug rehabilitation and counseling programs throughout Flagler County.
As we have the opportunity to study the experience of the State of Colorado, and other locations throughout the nation that have legalized recreational marijuana, we can begin the strategic planning process for dealing with both the positive and negative impacts of that potential legislation.
11. The Flagler County jail’s bed space has now more than doubled, though for the past decade, including the years of somewhat higher crime during the housing boom years, it served the county’s needs. Despite an increasing population, crime is not increasing apace. Diversionary programs are also helping. But jail beds have a way of abhorring emptiness. What will you do to keep beds from getting filled just because they’re there?
I respectfully disagree with your concept that empty jail space encourages an aggressive or inappropriate increase in prosecutions.
Trust me – under my administration the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office will work just as hard to address the problem of crime and victimization regardless of our jail population. Unfortunately, we live in an increasingly dangerous world, one in which the criminal element is becoming more sophisticated and violent in the manner and means of committing crimes. Taking these individuals off the street and removing their ability to victimize our citizens is a very important part of our mission. However, the operation and administration of the jail is an extraordinary financial burden for Flagler County. The housing and physical control of inmates – both those serving sentences and being held while awaiting trial – represents a high-liability to Flagler County taxpayers. Therefore, diversionary programs play an important part in balancing community needs. Especially in terms of effectively screening and treating the mentally ill.
In my view, the use of drug courts for non-violent offenders is proving to be an excellent means of preventing recidivism among minor, first-time offenders. I have also seen outstanding results from professionally managed deferred prosecution programs which emphasize education, ensure victim restitution, focused community service and other intervention strategies based upon community needs.
I also support strong juvenile justice programs which offer clear punishment for serious/violent criminal offenders, while providing intensive educational and counseling services to break the cycle. Of course, the common denominator in all of this is adequate funding.
It will be incumbent upon the next sheriff to seek out and secure federal, state and private grant funding to enhance and expand diversion programs in Flagler County.
“We live in an increasingly dangerous world.” How does that statement square with Gov. Rick Scott’s refrain that crime in Florida is at a 42-year low, and with Flagler’s crime rate not being far behind?
Chris Yates did not answer the question.
12. In your opinion, and your own places of employment past and present aside, what is the best example of a Police or Sheriff Department in the United States, and why? Please be precise in your choice of agency.
There are many excellent examples of progressive and innovative law enforcement agencies in Florida that have done many great things to improve both the professionalism and effectiveness of our collective mission.
I personally admire the accomplishments of the Spokane, Washington Police Department. One of the most effective programs to come out of that organization – and something I will bring to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office – is the strategic planning process. By forming a committee consisting of a cross-section of agency members (both sworn and civilian support staff), coupled with stakeholders in the community, we can open a means for effective communication and cooperation. It’s the very spirit of community-based policing.
The Strategic Planning Committee will examine current and anticipated issues facing the department and the community, define the agency’s values and culture, examine the organizational strengths and weaknesses and recommend improvements and changes. As Sheriff, I will use the committee’s recommendations to build both short and long-term strategic plans to help us reach our collective goals and objectives. Another aspect of the SPD that I have long admired is the leadership lessons of former Chief Anne Kirkpatrick (who is currently leading the Chicago Police Department through some pretty tough times) and her emphasis on values-based public service.
Chief Kirkpatrick stressed the importance of common sense expectations, both in the workplace and while conducting law enforcement operations.
• Do your work
• Say what you mean and mean what you say
• Speak and treat each other in a respectful manner
• Stay within the boundaries of reasonableness
• Agree to disagree
• No pot stirring – Intentionally causing dissension or disruption
• No harassing or bullying behavior
• No lying or any communication intended to deceive, including a lack of forthrightness
• No insubordination
• No abuse of authority
• No conduct unbecoming that causes a lack of trust in the department
These simple policies – coupled with a strong adherence to the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics – played an important role in the historic organizational change that transformed the Spokane Police Department in a community-oriented, service-based public safety agency.
I believe these same standards are exactly the principles of personal and professional conduct the good men and women of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office want – and demand – from their leadership.
13. If you have been the subject of one or more Internal Affairs investigation or its equivalent, or a use of force complaint, please tell us in what agency, when, what the circumstances or issues were, and what the disposition was in those cases.
I am incredibly proud to report that I have enjoyed an unblemished law enforcement career.
I have never been the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation – nor have I ever had a use of force complaint filed against me.
14. Question customized for Chris Yates: A recruiting academy for future sheriffs and police chiefs might well put you on its list. But here and now, with your lack of command experience and, based on these answers, at least some demonstrated distance from daily familiarity with the sheriff’s office and Flagler’s political landscape, why not wait until you have that experience?
Chris Yates did not answer the question.