Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd was elected president of the Florida Sheriffs Association at the group’s annual conference Monday. He’s worked at the Polk sheriff’s office since 1972, starting as a dispatcher. He was elected sheriff in 2004 and has been re-elected twice.
After tapping Judd as their leader, the sheriffs also voted unanimously to support the controversial “stand your ground” self-defense law without changes. They put out a statement Friday that quoted Judd saying, “Our current judicial system is comprised of multiple checks and balances to ensure fair and equitable application of all laws, including ‘stand your ground.’ ”
Judd is known for his colorful language and controversial quotes, sometimes evoking Anthony Comstock, the head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in the late 1800s. He is married to Marisa, his wife of 40 years, and they have two sons and eight grandchildren.
The News Service of Florida had five questions for Grady Judd:
Q: What are your goals for the sheriffs association during your term as president?
JUDD: Where we want to go in the next year, simply, is this: When you look at the Florida sheriffs and our other colleagues in law enforcement in the state of Florida, as well as the current laws our Legislature has in place, we’ve driven crime to a 42-year low in this state. And that’s remarkable. And that’s important not only for the safety and comfort of the almost 20 million people that live in the state of Florida, but for about 90 million people that vacation with us every year.
So that’s number one. We’re going to continue to work with our partners in the criminal-justice system and the Legislature to improve on what we do, but not change the basic tenets that continue to make this state one of the safest states in the union. And certainly we don’t want to change anything that has created a 42-year low.
Q: Can you get any tougher on crime? What else can you do?
JUDD: We hope to. First of all, the 85-percent rule (requiring state prisoners to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences) that we have in the state of Florida is very good. A criminal locked up in prison is not going to break into your home. He’s not going to rob you at gunpoint. And he’s certainly not going to break into your car while you’re visiting one of our attractions or our beautiful beaches. And not only have we locked those folks up, but we’ve sent a message loud and clear that if you come to Florida for vacation and you choose to commit a crime, we’re going to send you home on probation.
So we’re going to continue what we’ve done with our counterparts and certainly encourage everyone to say, “Look. We’re all for improving the system, but we’re not for doing anything that’s going to lessen the safety and security and turn criminals prematurely back out into the community.” So our number-one focus is that, to continue our efforts.
And think about this: During the worst recession since the Great Depression, the Florida sheriffs and our colleagues, using the current Florida law, have driven crime down. And that is unheard of. And even if you talk to the criminologists that study this, they’ll tell you it’s unheard of. So the work has been remarkable. And we’re going to continue that.
Q: You’re known for cracking down on people who commit sex crimes, even some who don’t live in Polk County. Talk about the roles of religion and morality in your tenure as sheriff.
JUDD: God is first and foremost in my life and always will be. And not only will I always evoke the name of God and doing what’s right, but I am disturbed on those that want to be politically correct and shy away from recognizing that God is our creator, that God is responsible for this earth being here and us being here. And I’m certainly not going to shy away from God, and I’m certainly not going to shy away from the fact that having a moral community is as indispensable to our progress as any other tenet of growing a good, lawful, safe, ethical society.
For example, somebody has asked, “Why do you do prostitution round-ups? That’s just two consenting adults having sex for money.” And there are a lot of reasons that that statement is wrong — among them human trafficking. (Florida is) recognized as number three in the nation in human trafficking. We just did an undercover operation, and we rescued a 15-year-old child who had been branded by a pimp. He had paid for and posted ads on Backpage.com, prostituting this child. She was tough as nails when we arrested her, but we worked with her and counseled with her and finally got her to admit that she was indentured. She was a slave, a sex slave, a labor slave. And that’s horrendous. And the Florida sheriffs also concur that that’s horrendous, and we’re going to work together to certainly reduce and hopefully one day to stop the human trafficking in this state.
Q: Given the recent child deaths, there’s talk of having more sheriffs take over child-protective investigations from the Department of Children and Families. What do the sheriffs think?
JUDD: There are six sheriffs right now who are doing DCF investigations and doing a remarkable job. However, I’ve talked to some of those sheriffs, who are outraged with the Florida Legislature because they can’t get the appropriate funding. It’s just like a juvenile boot camp that we ran here for (the Department of Juvenile Justice) many years ago. In the beginning, funding was appropriate, and it covered the cost. But as time went on, the state of Florida via DJJ and the Legislature — ultimately, they appropriate the money — continued to squeeze off the funds. So they wanted to force the cost back on the local county taxpayer. The same exact thing is happening to these other sheriffs right now. And some of those sheriffs are positioning themselves next legislative session to say, “Look. This is not a county taxpayer responsibility. It’s a state responsibility. You’ve got to fund it appropriately.”
I can tell you that we were approached, when I was a colonel, to also join in that group of sheriffs that do the child-protective investigations. I wanted to do it because I knew that there’s a sense of urgency built into sheriffs’ offices. Our checks and balances are complete. I am much more sensitive to the children in this county than someone trying to manage a system from Tallahassee for 67 counties. Even though I wanted to do it, I didn’t, because I’d just come out of a very tumultuous, frustrating circumstance, trying to get the state to fund the boot camps. The state doesn’t seem to want to fund things appropriately. So as a result, that’s why we are not where these other sheriffs are right now, because I learned my lesson from that circumstance.
I truly believe that if they look internally, they’ll find that a lot of the mistakes tied to those investigations may be lack of personnel, lack of supervision and lack of checks and balances. Because after all, what’s the difference if the sheriff does it as opposed to if the state does it? Well, I can tell you: The people have direct oversight of the sheriff. They give him a report card every four years, and he either passes or he fails. But DCF’s executive director doesn’t stand for public election. The district supervisors for DCF don’t stand for public election. So as a result, you don’t get the sense of urgency and the care and concern, because all that’s diffused. Direct accountability works; dispersed accountability does not.
Now, I’m not suggesting that DCF doesn’t care, but I think if you dig in, is it a DCF issue or a lack-of-resource issue? I’m not casting any stones, because I don’t know which it is. But I wouldn’t get into it if I couldn’t do it appropriately and have a guarantee that that funding would be appropriately perpetual. My county commission makes sure I have the resources to deliver services to the people of Polk County. But when you get in that big state legislative process, where they’ve got a million things going on, they make you go up there every year and fight for every dollar on those contracts. And therein lies the problem.
Q: You’ve spent $657,000 defending a lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center about the way you operate Polk’s juvenile detention center. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of saving money by taking over that function from DJJ?
JUDD: There is no amount of money worth not spending to look out for the best interests of children. You have to look out for the best interests of children, and that’s what I’m doing with (SB) 2112 (giving counties the right to operate their own juvenile detention facilities).
If somebody came up to you and said, “Listen, I’ve got a deal for you. I’ll give you $3.1 million (in savings to the county from operating the facility), and as a result of that, there’s going to be a group that just doesn’t like the fact that I give it to you, and they sue you, and it’s going to cost you $657,000” — you know, being a businessman, I see a return on that investment. And that’s what occurred.
When we initially got into this situation, we had tried to work with DJJ and tried to work with DJJ on their funding formula, and they were charging us $292 a bed a day (when DJJ ran the juvenile facility) — which is ridiculous. I could have taken these criminal delinquent kids and moved them in the Marriott in Times Square in New York for less money.