Keeping It 100 with Sheriff Chad Chronister

"I wouldn't want to be the Sheriff if I didn't have her as my partner."

Episode Summary

Sheriff Chad Chronister sits down with Chief Deputy Donna Lusczynski. Chief Deputy Lusczynski is the first female to ever hold the position of Chief Deputy of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. In this episode, you will hear how Chief Deputy Lusczynski and Sheriff Chronister's friendship started long before they became the leaders of HCSO.

Episode Transcription

Speaker 1:
Attention Hillsborough County, Unit 100 is now present.

Speaker 2:
I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support, protect, and defend.

Speaker 1:
I repeat, Unit 100, your Sheriff Chad Chronister is now here.

Speaker 2:
And I will [inaudible 00:00:21] and faithfully perform the duties of deputy sheriff of which I am about to enter, so help me God.

Speaker 3:
And now, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office brings you Keeping it 100, with Sheriff Chad Chronister.

Amanda Granit:
Hello, everyone, and welcome to episode two of Keeping it 100. I'm your host, Amanda Granit. I'm a public affairs coordinator at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and joining me at our podcast table is Hillsborough County Sheriff Chat Chronister and Chief Deputy Donna Lusczynski. Welcome, everyone.

Sheriff Chad C.:
Hello, Amanda.

Chief Donna L.:
Hi. How are you?

Amanda Granit:
I'm doing great. Everybody comfortable here at the table? Feeling good?

Sheriff Chad C.:
We're very comfortable. We even color coordinated our shirts today.

Amanda Granit:
You match. I feel like someone could've called me and let me know that we were wearing this black.

Sheriff Chad C.:
We'll make sure.

Amanda Granit:
Next time.

Sheriff Chad C.:
We wanted to stand out a little bit.

Amanda Granit:
Episode three.

Sheriff Chad C.:
You're the talent, so we had to stand out in other ways.

Amanda Granit:
All right. Sounds good. Last episode, sheriff, we got to hear a little bit about you. Chief, I want to turn over the tables to you and hear a little bit about your background, where do you come from, when did you join HCSO, and a little bit about your time here.

Chief Donna L.:
Okay. Sure. I grew up in New Jersey and had wanted to be a marine biologist, quite different from where I ended up. I came down here to the University of Tampa to study marine biology. As I continued through my education I became more interested in law enforcement and criminology and actually did an internship with the Tampa Police Department and I fell in love at that point with law enforcement, changed my major, and before I graduated applied to the Sheriff's Office and got hired.

Amanda Granit:
What was your first impression of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office?

Chief Donna L.:
It was just amazing to me how big of an agency it was and the diversity and the different job opportunities that there were for us. It was fun. I remember starting out and the sheriff and I worked together early in our careers and throughout, but it was a time where law enforcement was just fun. You go out and do your job and at that time put the bad guys in jail and go home at night and just had a blast.

Amanda Granit:
I know, as you alluded to there chief, you guys, before you were the leadership of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, you actually worked together in a lot of different capacities. What was the first time that you guys met?

Sheriff Chad C.:
If memory serves me correct, I graduated from the academy a few months after the chief and was assigned to that USF area. It was a very high crime area at the time and we ended up on the same call. She probably doesn't remember this, but I remember going to a call for service and we went into their area because their area was busier. So, went into her area, under her line of supervisors, and I remember that someone was inside and threatening suicide and wouldn't open up the door. The chief, then Deputy Lusczynski at the time, said, "I'm going to kick the door down and go get her." 

Sheriff Chad C.:
So she did, but we were freaking out like, "You can't kick the door in to go get anybody." We were inexperienced. She did kick it in. I remember her supervisor, I believe it was Theresa Johnson at the time was a corporal, and I thought, "Oh, boy, we're all getting written up. I'm going to get fired. I'm still on probation." And came and commended her. Okay, well you did what you had to do. I was sweating it, but at the time, to be honest with you... and this isn't to become nostalgic... but the chief showed those leadership skills. Even on a squad, we all looked up to her on how she handled herself and handled investigations, how observant she was even back then. You could see how different deputies would gravitate towards her at any call for service.

Amanda Granit:
Chief, do you remember one of the first instances that you met the sheriff?

Chief Donna L.:
I do. There was time, because as he said, we weren't on the same squad, but they would kind of be our backup relief. I was on a call and I just remember him coming and he was brand new at that time and just asking questions and always being inquisitive and learning and wanting to be better. That still is something we both preach to this day. We know we don't know everything so how can we better ourselves and make this agency better?

Sheriff Chad C.:
And throughout my career, a lot of times I was assigned to areas under the supervision or even under the command at the chief at that time and always looked up to her. Quite honestly, I say this without hesitation, I wouldn't be the sheriff or wanting to be the sheriff if I didn't have her as my partner. She's just brilliant in everything she does. She's an academic. I think we play well off each other, off of our skill set, off of each other's weaknesses, and I think that the community and our Sheriff's Office benefits because of the true partnership that we share.

Chief Donna L.:
Absolutely.

Amanda Granit:
You guys were telling a little bit of a joke of a story earlier, but I'm going to bring it back up here. There's something about a beret?

Chief Donna L.:
When we were in narcotics, I had been assigned there first so I had gone through my indoctrination into the unit, as we all do, and then the sheriff was assigned there and he had some different partners, not I. But apparently he had to wear a little chauffeur's cap and drive them around for a period of time for a couple months. So, he had his little cap and had his little assignment.

Sheriff Chad C.:
The hazing back then was real. We had a Lincoln Continental. They put cardboard up as a petition and they bought me a chauffeur's hat and I drove them around everywhere. We went to different deals, they really thought that the two drug purchasers and dealers that we had in the back, which were really undercover detectives, were something really huge because I opened the door for them. I had to do the whole thing. That was my hazing and my indoctrination into the narcotics unit. The first week I was like, "What did I do? I made the biggest mistake of my life."

Amanda Granit:
That's certainly changed though with your time.

Sheriff Chad C.:
Yes, it has.

Amanda Granit:
You guys worked in the narcotics field battling that back then, but obviously our community is still plagued by drug addiction now. What did you learn back then in your time on the streets that has helped you lead the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office now?

Chief Donna L.:
I think it's changed a little bit. Before it was put everybody in jail and now we've certainly transitioned to where we realize we need to solve the problem through treatment and getting people help. But it also taught us how to deal with people and really see how bad the problem could be. Years later, arresting people, we can't do it. That's not going to fix the situation. We have to work on treatment and providing services to people.

Sheriff Chad C.:
Yeah, how important enforcement is we get that. We have to enforce the people out there dealing drugs and getting individuals addicted to those drugs, but the chief's exactly right. I think if we learned anything as we have evolved is that we have to fix the problem. These aren't bad people. These are people who have an illness, that need help, and that's why we've spent so much time, resources, financial resources as well expanding the functions and the services that we have inside our detention facility to get the individuals the addiction treatment that they need so we're not just feeding this vicious revolving door.

Amanda Granit:
A lot of our listeners will be members across Hillsborough County, but also across Florida and possibly the country. What would a message be to those who have loved ones or are struggling themselves with drug addiction?

Sheriff Chad C.:
A message of hope that there is help available. Don't give up on your loved one. Keep trying to get them the help that they need. There's so many dangerous drugs out there now with just a microcosm of Fentanyl can kill somebody. It's just, don't give up on them. Same with mental health. Probably our biggest obstacle moving forward. As a family member, you love them. Keep pushing them to get them the treatment that they need and don't give up on them.

Amanda Granit:
When you became sheriff in September 2017, you had the task of finding out who would be the next chief. Why did you decide and why did the chief stand out to you?

Sheriff Chad C.:
I could be here for three days, we could make a mini-series on why the chief's the most qualified individual to be the chief deputy of this agency. I said it earlier, when I found out that I was going to be appointed by the governor to be the sheriff, I immediately approached the chief and said, "Listen, I would only do this and take this opportunity if you agree to do this with me in a partnership." Again, because we're such a great friends and because we've worked together, and I think I've learned so much working for her at different capacities throughout my career, it was just a no-brainer. Knowing that we wanted to change the culture here at the office, we wanted to change the old mantra of arresting everybody and being tough on crime. We wanted to be smarter and be smart on crime. Somebody that has an open mind, someone who is progressive, knowing that our agency had a lot of catching up to do with evolving along with society, it was a no-brainer that she is the perfect person to be the chief deputy and lead this agency.

Amanda Granit:
When the sheriff came to you, chief, and said, "I'm not going forward unless you do this with me," what was going through your mind?

Chief Donna L.:
Well, first I was obviously honored and humbled by that, but having worked with him over the years, it was an easy decision for me. We've both been in align with our priorities at this office and what we think is important and how we can best help the community, so when he asked it was like that. I'd be honored and yes and I couldn't have a better partner.

Sheriff Chad C.:
Probably the easiest conversation I ever had in 29 years here in law enforcement at this agency. Nothing ever in my whole career felt more comfortable than having Donna Lusczynski as our chief deputy.

Amanda Granit:
Biggest question, he didn't make you wear a beret?

Chief Donna L.:
No, not yet.

Sheriff Chad C.:
No.

Chief Donna L.:
Just a cowboy hat.

Sheriff Chad C.:
No hazing process.

Amanda Granit:
Not yet, but maybe this month.

Sheriff Chad C.:
We got away from the cowboy hat.

Chief Donna L.:
True.

Sheriff Chad C.:
So that was just the opposite.

Amanda Granit:
Back in 2017, what was your biggest challenge with the agency or your biggest goals for the agency?

Sheriff Chad C.:
It was a lot of goals. One of the biggest goals was making the agency about the employees again. We knew that the employees were lacking a lot of what they needed from civilian employees all the way to law enforcement all the way to any of the sworn deputies in the jails, they didn't have the equipment that they need and it's not me throwing stones at the previous regime. They just were missing so much. There were better uniforms at the same price, more comfortable uniforms. There were guns that were failing that we needed to get them different firearms. From changing technology in the cars to keep them safe to different software programs to make sure our employees could be the most productive that they could be and be more efficient by having the proper tools. 

Sheriff Chad C.:
We spent the first year, a large majority of it, just getting the employees the tools and resources and the training, because I think some of the training was lacking, get them the training that they needed to be able to be the most professional versions of themselves. I would be proud if our biggest accomplishment is just getting the employees the resources that they need.

Chief Donna L.:
And I think, too, trying to get additional buy in from the employees and really hear their opinions and see what they want and they need. We're at a different level now where we don't see what the deputies do on a daily basis. We knew they do great work, but we don't know all the challenges and trials that they have, so getting some of their input and trying to fix it through technology, through different programs and stuff like that, I think that has helped us as well and something we're proud of. Making sure they know we're part of a team.

Amanda Granit:
We're moving into a new decade, 2020. We're going strong.

Chief Donna L.:
Yes.

Amanda Granit:
What's the future of HCSO look like?

Sheriff Chad C.:
I still remember 2000, when everything was supposed to come to an end and all vacations were canceled and we had to work because the world was coming to an end.

Chief Donna L.:
Y2K.

Sheriff Chad C.:
Yeah. 2020, we've been spending a lot of time focusing on, like the chief alluded to before, and it's actually fixing a problem, not putting a bandaid on a problem. I think one of the biggest bandaids we've put on is inmates... and we alluded to it earlier when we were talking... is getting them healthy, whether it's drug addiction, whether it's mental health treatment. We've expanded both those programs and this year it's exciting because now we've moved in and said, "Okay, once you make them healthier, now you have to get them some type of training because if you don't, now they're going to go back to the same ways and pattern of behavior that they know, which is that criminal activity."

Sheriff Chad C.:
So, we're in a process of building a trade center where inmates will get the training they need and a lot of great training from welding, to forklift operator, to automotive mechanic, electrician, and plumbing. We teamed up with Erwin Technical School, so even if they get out during the process, there are some grant programs that as long as they're willing to commit to the finishing a program, they can complete it. It doesn't cost them any money. Now, we're working, trying to get with some of the different trade unions and employers that now even that last missing piece is to get them gainful employment. If we make you healthy, now we provide you a skill, I just think that's the way we're going to break that cycle and lower the recidivism rate and, in turn, keep the crime rate lower in Hillsborough County as we continue to have this explosion of population that are moving to Tampa because it's just such a great city, a great area to live and everybody's coming here.

Chief Donna L.:
I think, too, one of the sheriff's priorities from the beginning has been the health and wellness of our employees. Unfortunately, we've seen suicides across the nation in law enforcement and we've really focused on trying to get out our employees, not just law enforcement, but civilians, detention deputies, everybody, services they need. We have a mental health counselor on staff now that will be available. We have hired additional chaplains and a variety of services to make sure that their physical and mental wellbeings are better.

Amanda Granit:
Looking back over the last few years with you guys leading the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, is there a time that stands out to you that makes you smile or makes you laugh with your time together? Obviously a lot has happened over the last few years, but what are you looking back and proud of?

Sheriff Chad C.:
I think a lot of it that we were able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time. I think if I had to be proud of one thing it's the fact that we've accomplished so much with a new command staff, a young agency, an extremely young agency, and that the two of us, with the help of a lot of talented people around us, we've been able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time. It's exciting to build on that momentum and continue into 2020.

Chief Donna L.:
I agree. As we see people that we grew up with and that we mentored, now we can provide them opportunities to be supervisors, to be leaders, and help us as we move forward and move this agency forward. It's an honor and a privilege to be able to do that.

Amanda Granit:
And a reminder to all of our listeners, every episode we're going to take questions from the community, so if you have any questions for us, just make sure to use the hashtag keeping it 100 on any of our social media. We're going to dive into some of the questions that the community members have.

Amanda Granit:
Lacy Sells, Tampa, asks, "How has HCSO progressed in recruitment and retention of female deputies, the support of those deputies and their families?"

Chief Donna L.:
I think that's something we've focused on really heavily, and overall to be a diverse agency. We need to reflect the community that we work for and live in. But we have been recruiting females. I know we were attempting to have an entirely female academy class and we got pretty high up there. I think we've had 13 females in one class, but logistically it comes to some challenges with restrooms and facilities and it was a challenge to fill it completely, but we've continued to increase those numbers. We've definitely made an improvement in that. I feel our leadership, with the sheriff, you can see females in our command staff and at different supervisory levels where they haven't been before. He's certainly giving people the opportunity and that's if they're qualified. We got to make sure we still are the most professional and qualified law enforcement agency out there and we are. But it's not for any sacrifice for that.

Sheriff Chad C.:
Yeah, we're more diverse than we've ever been in 174 years. Since we've taken over together the past two and a half years, we're at a 58.9% diversity rate. The chief alluded to it earlier, it's important to have a workforce that reflects the community that you serve. If he or she looks like me, speaks the same language as me, that breaks down those immediate barriers and helps bridge that gap between law enforcement and community. That's something that we've really focused on. We modified and revised a lot of the hiring standards. We eliminated the college requirement, knowing that a lot of minorities, a lot of females, a lot of the population that we wanted to recruit aren't able to afford to go to college. We're going to teach you how to be a police officer. You're going to have plenty to learn and have all ample time to do that, so we modified the hiring standards and because of it, we hired over double what we've ever hired and have lowered that vacancy gap as we move forward. I'm proud of how we've done that and the improvements that have made, again, in such a short period of time.

Amanda Granit:
Excuse me if I'm pronouncing this person's name wrong, but [Angells 00:17:26] says that she would like to see HCSO talk about trauma, PTSD, mental health, and how you're addressing it and normalizing it. So obviously, a lot to unpack here, but let's first go back to what we were talking about before about our deputies and the mental health assistance that we are providing them.

Sheriff Chad C.:
You want to talk about the internal programs and I'll talk about some of the external ones?

Chief Donna L.:
Sure. The Jonathan Black Program is a program that we have that all our deputies and employees go through an inservice to help them deal with their emotional needs. Sometimes our deputies see things that other people should never have to see or hear. We know it can be disturbing and that can build up over time so we want to give them tools and techniques that they can deal with that so when they go home they're not shut off from their families. They're not shut off with their friends. That's one program that we make mandatory. We have our employee assistance programs. We have now, as I said, we've expanded our chaplain program and have a mental health counselor on site to help deal with those situations. 

Chief Donna L.:
We know it's a priority and what's important we want to make sure that they know that they can do that without us knowing. It's confidential. It's something they can seek treatment with. We don't need to know about it, other than know that they're getting help when they need it.

Sheriff Chad C.:
It's a tremendous priority for our employees. It's a tremendous priority for our community. It's probably our biggest obstacle moving forward. Someone expects us to save some violent crime or burglary. It's mental health and it's mental health calls for service. I think we've made some great strides there. We now have a deputy assigned to each of our five patrol districts. We divide our county up into five patrol districts and they monitor the high utilizers. They're out making contact, hey, why is someone being Baker Acted 20, 30, 40 times? How can we mitigate that and mitigate calls for service, but also get that individual help? We're in the process of trying to hire two social workers, one for the east side and west side. We know where we're missing that gap when we go out there, but we have to help them get the counseling, the services that are available for them. So, take that social worker along with the deputy now to talk to this individual and get these individuals the true help they need. Again, not putting a bandaid on an individual or a problem and actually solve the problem.

Sheriff Chad C.:
In our detention facility we have a separate area for veterans, knowing that they have that unique PTSD situation that they deal with and get them the help that they need. So, help healing the community that way. Along with a plethora of other services and resources that we're giving our veterans. We just had our first class graduate and that's been fantastic. A lot of it is, again, focused around mental health, even to the point where we made it mandatory that every one of our employees go through a 40 hour advanced training course, which now deals with mental health, that actually deals with PTSD, which deals with drug-induced behavior. They're able to identify symptoms and deescalate situations and I think make us a much more valuable resource to our community.

Sheriff Chad C.:
Even in terms of detention, when we get individuals into our detention facility and we have great resources and we're able to get them the medication they need. Sometimes we even change the medication they take. We get them healthy. They get back out and there's no one there to make sure that they continue to take that medication or they don't have access to that medication. So what we've done is team up with the county commission so we're one of few agencies when they leave, they leave there with 30 days worth of medication, even if they get transferred to another detention facility. They're going to prison, we give them 30 days of their medication to take with them.

Amanda Granit:
That's great. Now, right before we sign off... because you guys are officially podcasters, we've done it... we're going to do a quick little lightning round. Super easy. Just some kind of questions just to get know you. The goal is to answer fast.

Sheriff Chad C.:
Briefs.

Amanda Granit:
Okay. You guys ready? All right. Favorite color?

Chief Donna L.:
Blue.

Sheriff Chad C.:
Green.

Amanda Granit:
Favorite animal?

Chief Donna L.:
Dog.

Sheriff Chad C.:
Dog.

Amanda Granit:
Favorite song? Quickly.

Chief Donna L.:
Expose songs.

Sheriff Chad C.:
She loves Expose. For me, anything from Coldplay.

Amanda Granit:
Okay. Favorite thing to do outside of work?

Sheriff Chad C.:
Be with my family.

Chief Donna L.:
Out on the boat.

Sheriff Chad C.:
Usually it's with the family out on the boat.

Amanda Granit:
Favorite law enforcement agency in Florida?

Chief Donna L.:
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Chad C.:
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Amanda Granit:
Yay!

Sheriff Chad C.:
Was that a trick question?

Amanda Granit:
It was. Well, thank you guys all for listening and we'll see you next time on Keeping it 100.

Speaker 7:
Thank you for listening to this edition of Keeping it 100. To keep up with team HCSO in between each episode, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at HCSO Sheriff.