Central Florida residents may recognize Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood from his years of service leading the Daytona Beach Police Department and his straight talking style with the media and the public. Last year he was elected to office as an anti-establishment candidate capturing over 50% of the vote in a five person field bypassing a potential runoff.
Chitwood recently sat down OPO Publisher Doug Kaplan to talk about what he wants to accomplish as Sheriff and some of the obstacles he’s seeing early on, including some coming from within county government itself.
One of those obstacles is system heavily reliant on a county manager, Jim Dineen, who Chitwood says is out of touch and leans too heavily on dated policies.
“The whole set-up here in Volusia is different than anywhere else in Florida.” begins Chitwood “Although, I’m elected by the people, I’m beholden to the county manager. For me it’s kind of hard to understand how you are elected by the folks in a county-wide election and they’ll hire you or fire you again in four years, but the real success depends on whether the county manager likes my ideas. It flies in the face of Democracy, the way this is set up.”
The County Council appointed Dineen over a decade ago, who has no law enforcement experience and references a county charter which was put in place back in 1970’s says Chitwood.
“Some people think it’s a document of the sacred scrolls.” he adds “Which basically has stripped the power of the Sheriff, the Property Appraiser, the Clerk of the Courts and has shifted all of that power to the County Manager. What I’ve seen is that it’s okay to lie here in the county. It’s okay to tell you one thing, walk out that door, do another thing, shrug my shoulders, and say “Hey I lied.”
The Sheriff would like to see a the department acquire a Bearcat armored vehicle for citizen rescues similar to the one used during the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last year. Chitwood would also like a pay study conducted for his deputies that said they feel “abandoned” during interviews conducted shortly after he took office. These resources are needed to protect a county that stretches from the northeastern Volusia county border on the coast, all the way to the Seminole County border here in Greater Orlando.
Other law enforcement issues Chitwood feels strongly about is finding solutions for gun violence linked to mental illness, and urges residents to lock up firearms and notify police when calling that someone with a mental illness possibly has access to a weapon. The information could potentially save the life of everyone involved.
Like many other counties in the state and around the country, Volusia is battling the opioid epidemic which has seen overdoses leap in recent years and also like many local law enforcement agencies the Volusia County Sheriff’s Department is focused on protecting the communities instead of enforcing federal policies being pushed down from Washington such as immigration.
“I would like to find a way to deport my regular prisoners, the ones that get locked up 20 or 30 times. I’d like to be able to deport them” he adds.
Despite red tape from county government and other challenges his department faces in keeping the community safe, Sheriff Mike Chitwood is grateful for the people in his operation.
“The folks here in the organization, civilian and sworn alike, have been absolutely incredible to work with.” he says “They’re a group that’s hungry for change, hungry for leadership and I couldn’t ask them to work harder than they’re already working for me.”
You can watch the interview with Chitwood below…