BROWARD (CBSMiami) – It’s been 13 months since Sheriff Gregory Tony took over the helm at BSO. When Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him to replace suspended Sheriff Scott Israel, BSO was still reeling from the fallout and a lack of public trust from the Parkland shooting. On Thursday, Tony sat down for a lengthy and far-reaching interview about changing the culture and training at this agency of 5,700 employees.
Tony said the Parkland shooting and the failures of the Broward Sheriff’s Office on that tragic day dented the confidence and standing of the agency.
“We lost the public trust after February 14,” he said. “We failed in the most grotesque manner. People in this community were referencing Broward Sheriff’s Office as the cowards of Broward.”
Tony said his goal as Sheriff has been to rehabilitate the agency’s reputation, improve training and focus on performance. Tony pointed to upgrades like BSO’s new $34 million training facility that is expected to open in 2 years as well as training programs for deputies backed by the FBI and Homeland Security.
“We are now the top training organization not just in Broward County, not just in Florida, but in the United States,” he said.
Tony said he’s proud of other changes like a new Real Time Crime Center, a commitment to promote from within BSO’s ranks and a strong working relationship with Broward County leaders to make necessary changes to the county’s communications system. Failures in the communication system led to problems in Parkland and during the airport shooting.
Another upgrade that BSO revealed on Thursday is a new mobile forensic command unit that will allow crime scene investigators to work side by side with criminal investigators deploying drones, looking at evidence and even communicating with judges to get warrants signed in the field in real time.
But there have been challenges since Tony took over, including a couple of high profile use of force cases when deputies were seen punching inmates, which led to the firings of Deputy Jorge Sobrino and Deputy Kevin Fanti.
“That is one of the most egregious things that we can do is to strike individuals that are defenseless or not able to defend themselves,” Tony said.
In another case Deputy Christopher Krickovich was seen on video slamming a teenager’s head into the ground outside a Tamarac McDonald’s last year. Tony said the Professionals Standards Committee reviewed that case and recommended that Krickovich be cleared but Tony disagreed and fired Krickovich.
“How could we as an organization gain the public trust if we are not able to self-police and we can clearly see that this is wrong?” Tony said.
Tony said his goal with all the training, accountability and transparency is for the community to have faith in BSO’s ability to keep them safe.
“It’s a shared concern,” he said. “Can you succeed? Will you succeed? If my kid is in the next school? Are you showing up or are your people going to stand outside?”
Tony said the resounding answer to those question is yes.
Another sign of change at BSO, according to Tony, is the filling of vacancies. When Tony arrived there were 139 vacancies. BSO says they’re filled 51 of those spots and that has put more deputies on the streets across Broward County.
Tony faces his biggest test later this year when voters will decide if he deserves to be the elected sheriff. Israel is also running in the race. Tony hopes the community sees the commitment he’s made to improving BSO.
“It is an elected role but it does not have to be political,” said Tony. “I’m optimistic that this community having been out there for a year, are seeing the difference in how we lead in an organization and how I present myself and what my focal point is.”