Keeping It 100 with Sheriff Chad Chronister

"One of the biggest goals that I had when I became the sheriff... was to build trust through transparency."

Episode Summary

In September's episode, Sheriff Chad Chronister discusses the major changes at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in 2020. HCSO now offers online reporting in both English and Spanish, allowing residents to file a report for certain crimes without having to call a deputy to the scene. More recently, HCSO announced the deployment of 1,000 body-worn cameras to outfit uniformed patrol deputies through the rank of sergeant, which will include specialty units such as School Resources Deputies, the K-9 section, Marine Unit, Port Security, Civil Process and Court Security Deputies.

Episode Transcription

Merissa Lynn, Host: Hello everybody. And welcome to this edition of Keeping it 100. I'm your host, Merissa Lynn. I am here of course with Hillsborough Sheriff, Chad Chronister. Sheriff, welcome to this episode.

Sheriff: Thanks for having me, Merissa.

Merissa Lynn, Host: We have a lot to get to today. This episode we are discussing a lot of the changes that HCSO has made over the past several months, starting in at the beginning of the year with online reporting. This has been a very welcome change, Sheriff. Why was it so important to implement this, especially at a time where we're dealing with a global pandemic?

Sheriff: Yeah. Something we've been working on for quite some time, but I tell you what the combination of and launching of this program, the timing couldn't have been better with the pandemic. First of all, we have to protect our deputies and this distances them from those calls for service where they can get infected, go home and infect their family. So it adds an additional layer of security for them. But I think more importantly, or just as excitingly, is to make sure that as a department we become more efficient. And whenever someone can virtually go wherever you are in the world and make a report of something that you want to report, any of those crimes that are nonviolent and not in progress calls, I mean, once again, how much more efficient can you get than regardless of where you're at, we're going to make it easy as you can to file a police report.

Merissa Lynn, Host: Like you said, the timing really couldn't have been more perfect for this to come into play. Some of the things that we talk about, some of the reports that you can file online are minor traffic accidents without injuries, lost property, identity theft. What are some of the other things that people can file online using our system?

Sheriff: And great question, identity theft, credit card fraud, immigration scams that are going around, lost property with the exception of a firearm. And again, you mentioned it, but traffic crashes. Why sit out there and wait for a deputy when it's just that driver's exchange form when you can do it online. And you're just capturing information and insurance companies are going to be the ones that handle anyway. Bicycle registrations, any type of delayed shoplifting call, vandalism, graffiti, calls like this. We wanted to be more efficient. We wanted to make it more convenient. And again, besides insulating the deputies, how great is it to be able to make a report 24 hours a day virtually from wherever you want to?

Merissa Lynn, Host: And we should make note that this doesn't include traffic accidents with injuries and that sort of thing, a deputy will still come and assist with that sort of thing. But this is for very minor accidents where it's just really about that driver exchange of information. I guess, what are the benefits to online reporting for both the deputies and for the citizens that we serve?

Sheriff: Well, I think you have to look at it from a global perspective, the amount of money that we saved with deputies going and responding to that calls for service and the amount of calls that we've already taken online. Again, I'll say it a million times, it's being more efficient, it's being more convenient and providing a better service to the community that we serve.

Merissa Lynn, Host: And you mentioned the money saved as a result of online reporting. I can tell you that since the implementation of this program at the beginning of the year, people have filed more than 4,100 reports online. It saved more than 6,000 hours and it's also saved more than $166,000 of people's money. So that's huge for us.

Sheriff: That is. You talk about progress, there's some great progress and the fact that we're responsible for every penny of individual's hard earned taxpayer dollars. This is great. When we're able to save the taxpayers this type of money and at the same time provide an even better and more convenient service.

Merissa Lynn, Host: And one of the things that I do want to mention is who is able to file an online report? There are certain qualifications for you to be able to file online report.

Sheriff: That's a good question. Not hard to qualify. You have to be 18 years of age. And again, not be in that immediate danger, we don't want you to be in immediate danger and say, well let me go file something online. Take a common sense approach here and be reasonable. But if you're 18 years of age, it's a nonviolent, not in progress call, we don't want people using to choose to do this versus calling 911 by any means, you can use this system. And again, great, easy, simple, convenient way to interact with your Hillsborough County Sheriff's office.

Merissa Lynn, Host: And we're trying to reach an even greater population now with the recent release of our Spanish online reporting, we're offering that service to people who, whose main language here in Hillsborough County is Spanish. And that's more than 20% of the population here in Hillsborough County. How important was it to implement that service to our Spanish speakers?

Sheriff: Very important. We started quite some time ago having bilingual social media pages, public service announcements to let the Hispanic and Latino community know scams that were targeting them, keep them safe as well. So now we're at a point as a Sheriff's office, everything that goes out in English goes out in Spanish and extremely proud of that. Again, building that relationship with, even a greater relationship, I should say, with the Hispanic portion of the population. So now to have individuals who don't speak any English that are here in our community, again, to be able to engage in them, them to know and be reminded that they don't have to be a victim, that they can go online. And again, the same service is provided to them as well.

Merissa Lynn, Host: Again, online reporting is offered in both English and Spanish. If any of you have the need to file a report online, you can see a complete list of reports that you can file online. Just go to our website teamhcso.com, go to the services tab and file a police report online. Again, that's teamhcso.com. Of course, that's not the only change that we've had here at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's office here in recent months. We've seen a lot of civil unrest nationwide, but one of the things that when you came to become Sheriff, you said you wanted to implement body-worn cameras for our deputies. And this is literally something that just went into effect a few weeks ago, but it was something that you really wanted to work on from the time you got here.

Sheriff: One of the biggest goals that I had when I became the sheriff three years ago, was to build trust through transparency. Hiring more public affairs officers, having a larger social media platform. If this is the way our committee is going to communicate, this is the way you're going to get that information. Being more transparent. I think a giant leap in that trust through transparency and this public outcry across our nation that you heard for more police accountability, I don't think there's a better resource or tool you can implement than body cameras. Three years ago, the price for it, because of the storage, was astronomical. About a year and a half ago, we started devising a plan to have a weapons activated camera system. I felt that was a compromise. Compromise to the budget, compromise for building that trust through transparency and accountability that we wanted to provide to the public that we serve.

Sheriff: Those deadly uses of force that get called into question. If a deputy would remove his or her firearm, it would go back and record two minutes prior. And we would see the events leading up and be able to get this true picture. I think in light of George Floyd and a lot of the civil unrest that happened, it was a greater call for even more accountability. So wanting to be more accountable, wanting to be more transparent. And I think the timing was perfect. As we were getting ready to launch these weapons activated cameras, we were doing some research and saw that the greatest cost than the camera system, isn't the camera, it's the storage. And a lot of vendors have gone to a cloud-based storage.

Sheriff: So the price where it made it unreasonable or unattainable because of a lot of other public safety priorities, we here as we continue to grow at this population boom that we're experiencing here in Hillsborough County. When the price came down, I was able to go to the County Commission and I can't tell you what a phenomenal and amazing relationship the Sheriff's office shares with the County Commission. And we went and we spoke to them, told them our priority and what we were trying to accomplish. And they voted all motion amnesty to provide the funding over the next five years. So here we are at a point where we were getting ready to do weapons active, but we were to piggyback off our local agencies request for a proposal that they already had. And August 10th, we've already started implementing the training for these cameras.

Merissa Lynn, Host: And 1000 cameras will be deployed amongst deputies. Who exactly is going to be wearing these cameras?

Sheriff: We wanted to give them to our deputies who are going to have the most interaction with the public that we serve. Our uniform patrol deputies, obviously. Our courthouse security, deputy civil process, our special units, like the marine unit, canine, school resource deputies who deal with children. We wanted to make sure those individuals, those deputies who have the most interactions with our community are the ones that we're capturing with a fulltime body-worn camera.

Merissa Lynn, Host: So really the people that have boots on the ground.

Sheriff: Absolutely. People that have the most interaction with the public. Now, every interaction they have now will be captured.

Merissa Lynn, Host: And you sort of went into this before, if they deploy their weapon, it's going to be automatically activated. But there are times where they can activate it themselves.

Sheriff: Yeah. That's the goal was for them to activate it themselves. I love the technology with the vendor that we went with because there's some fail-safes to reduce that likelihood of human error. If they forget to turn it on because they have to draw their weapons so quick, it automatically, it gets turned on. If they have to do the same thing where they find themselves in that use of force situation, they remove their taser, it's automatically turned on. Same thing. The moment that they activate their emergency equipment to conduct a traffic stop or go somewhere, it automatically turns on. And I love that because it reduces that likelihood of human error. Again, wanting to ensure that we capture whatever that interaction may be.

Merissa Lynn, Host: And you discussed this as well. You were very thorough before, but it increases transparency, not only to see what deputies are doing, but also kinds of things that deputies are dealing with when it comes to the public.

Sheriff: Yeah. I think it paints the full picture, holds all parties accountable. This isn't just for the transparency and accountability the public, it's for the deputies as well. I think they're looking forward to it. I think a lot of people you talk about body cameras think, oh, law enforcement doesn't want it. I assure you, that's not the case. Our deputies are excited. We haven't heard one complaint. Matter of fact, when we were doing the pilot program and testing phase for the weapons activated, if there was one consistent theme we've heard throughout the pilot program is we wish these were on full time. And I think that they want that additional layer of security as well. And we've seen around other agencies, statistical data that's shown that founded complaints against officers are down. Uses of force are down. So again, I think it's a positive for all parties involved.

Merissa Lynn, Host: And Sheriff, these are two huge changes that HCSO has made in just the last several months, since the beginning of the year. When you become Sheriff, can you ever envision the types of changes that will come your way?

Sheriff: You can't. And you know what, I think my biggest goal, Merissa, was to be openminded number one and number two, to make sure that you're evolving. I didn't want to be an agency that wasn't evolving along with society. Because we know if we're just maintaining or sustaining our positions, we're already moving backwards. So it's staying ahead, seeing what the community that you serve, where's the demands, where's the level of transparency? Whatever the case may be, and staying ahead of that curve to make sure you're providing the most professional service, again, to the community that you serve.

Merissa Lynn, Host: Online reporting, the body worn cameras, obviously there are a lot of pros. We've discussed the pros that they will provide in terms of transparency and all that, but are there any other things that they will provide moving forward?

Sheriff: I'll tell you what, certainly I'm glad you brought this up. There's another pro, there was another advantage, another selling point that we love with the vendor that we chose. And it was two things. Number one is the way it's secured to the uniform. Instead of the sunglasses or the shoulder mount, we thought of, hey, if there was a rescue, there was a use of force, then you're not going to capture anything except they're probably staring at the ground or in the sky. So loved how it went through the uniform and secured it. And it's firmly secured. It's not going anywhere. So it will truly capture whatever the scenario or whatever the incident may have been. But another thing that I loved about it is because one of the technological advances that this vendor has is real-time live streaming. So if a deputy goes into a hostage situation, active shooter, we can log in as a supervisor and see what that deputy is seeing. So from a tactical advantage, how to deploy resources to see exactly what's happening, again, a huge advantage to the way we'll conduct law enforcement here in Hillsborough.

Merissa Lynn, Host: So again, online reporting, body-worn cameras, two of the big changes that HCSO has been through this year. Sheriff, thank you so much for being here for this episode and kind of walking us through all of this and we'll see you next month on the next episode.

Sheriff: Thank you, Merissa.

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 @HCSOSheriff.