Pubdate: Sun, 05 Aug 2012
Source: Tampa Bay Times (FL)
Copyright: 2012 St. Petersburg Times
Author: Erin Sullivan


Paso sheriff's candidates Fortney, Nocco and Radford discuss ways to
fight drugs in county

Pasco County sheriff's candidate Roger Fortney's solution to fighting
drug crime is simple:

Keep close tabs on offenders.

Really close.

"I believe if we worked closer with parole and probation we could
convince them to stop committing the crimes or to move out of the
county," said Fortney, 59, who worked in road patrol for 23 years at
the Pasco County Sheriff's Office before retiring as a corporal in
2009. He is one of three candidates -- along with Maurice Radford, 50,
a former major with the Sheriff's Office and current Pasco Sheriff
Chris Nocco, 36 -- vying for the top spot in the Republican primary
Aug. 14. The winner will square off against Democrat Kim Bogart in

Fortney said putting pressure on offenders might persuade them to move
to a place where there's less "resistance."

"Not harassment of course," he said. "But there's nothing wrong with
selective enforcement."

All three candidates say the battle against drugs and the crimes drugs
inevitably cause will always be there, though the drug of choice changes.

In recent years, the abuse of prescription pills became an epidemic,
with Pasco and Pinellas counties leading Florida in fatal overdoses in
drugs such as oxycodone, though the figures are starting to decline.
Last year Pasco had 122 prescription drug-related deaths, down from
153 the year before, according to the Pinellas-Pasco Medical
Examiner's Office.

"We are turning the tide but we are nowhere close to saying the
problem is solved," said Radford, who retired in December, citing
differences with Nocco.

Radford said one of the changes he would make as sheriff would be to
not rely as heavily on paid confidential informants in drug

"Informants are not always top-shelf citizens," he

He said informants sometimes use drugs during an investigation, which
can make the case fall apart in court. He said to protect informants,
there can be a long lag time, sometimes several weeks to a few months,
between the time the person is in a drug house, witnessing crime, and
when a search warrant is executed. By then, the suspects and their
drugs could have moved on. Radford said by using undercover
detectives, there wouldn't need to be such a long delay.

"When we kick in the door with a SWAT team and we're waving around
automatic weapons, anything in the world can go bad," Radford said.
"We need to know the drugs are there -- a felony amount of drugs. We
don't need to come out with a little bit of marijuana."

Nocco, who was appointed sheriff by Gov. Rick Scott after former
Sheriff Bob White retired in April 2011, said vice detectives are
hitting drug havens hard.

"We are going out there and taking out drug houses in these
neighborhoods," Nocco said.

Nocco merged SWAT teams with the New Port Richey Police Department and
got the unit a bulletproof vehicle, a Lenco BearCat, which looks like
a tank and was bought with money seized from drug dealers.

"When you have drugs, you have violence," Nocco said.

Nocco said his philosophy is holistic -- to have zero tolerance on
criminals, but to also focus on drug education for children and
parents, and substance abuse help for addicts. He implemented a
sobriety program called Celebrate Recovery in the jail, which has a
network of churches to help inmates after they are released.

"We can't arrest ourselves out of the situation," Nocco said. "We have
to work together as a community."

He said fighting the pill problem requires a multipronged approach. He
credits a state database tracking prescriptions; state laws regulating
pain pill clinics; partnerships with other local, state and federal
law enforcement agencies; the use of intelligence-led policing, which
focuses on gathering and sharing data to predict crimes and target
offenders and the 12 extra detectives Nocco requested in his budget
and received this year. The detectives target prescription pill crimes.

"We are making a positive impact," Nocco said.

The new worrisome wave of drugs to hit Pasco are synthetic drugs,
often called Spice, bath salts and other names, which are marketed as
incense or plant food and labeled that they are not intended for human
consumption, but are widely used as a narcotic, especially by
teenagers. Federal, state and local officials are working to regulate
the drugs, sold legally in convenience stores, by banning some of the
chemicals used. The drugs have been linked to delusional, violent
behavior and, in some cases, permanent psychosis and deadly overdoses,
authorities said.

Fortney said if he was elected, drug offenders wouldn't be the only
people to get a visit from deputies. He'd have meetings with Spice

"I personally would go to each of these stores and try to persuade the
owners that it would be in their best interest to stop selling these
drugs that are poisoning our children," he said.

That could be a long undertaking. He said he would make

"I want to help at the street level," Fortney said.

Radford said he would focus on educating children and parents about
these dangerous, chemically laced drugs.

"We know the results of it," he said. "We are seeing it in our
hospitals. Education is one way to prevent people from being entrapped
by this stuff."

He said he would work with the county to draft an ordinance to
regulate sellers.

"If we can regulate that alcohol cannot be sold to a minor, we can
regulate that this cannot be sold or possessed by a minor," Radford
said. He said a county ordinance on pain management clinics that he
helped initiate worked in fighting prescription pills.

Nocco said his staff has met with the county, but hasn't found an
ordinance that would be successful in prosecuting sellers of synthetic
drugs. His agency has been working cases with the Drug Enforcement
Administration, because suspects can be prosecuted in federal court
for using banned chemicals and related compounds in these products.
Two synthetic drug laboratories in Pasco were recently busted,
resulting in several federal indictments. Nocco said he would support
a local ordinance if it would work.

"This is an epidemic and we are taking it head on," Nocco

He has instituted an awareness program where stores choosing to not to
sell synthetic drugs like Spice get stickers for their windows that
say the drugs aren't sold there.

"This is a bad drug," Nocco said. "This is destroying

- ------------------


Candidates for sheriff

Roger Fortney, 59, grew up in Ohio and, as a young adult, moved to
Florida and began his career with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office in
1986. He retired as a corporal in 2009 and worked in detention for the
Hernando County Sheriff's Office until 2011, when he left to focus on
his campaign for sheriff. He lives in New Port Richey with his wife,
Rita. They have two children and four grandchildren.

Chris Nocco, 36, is the son of a retired Philadelphia police captain
who decided he wanted to go into law enforcement, too. After
graduating from college on a football scholarship, he worked for
agencies in Philadelphia, Fairfax, Va., and Broward County. He then
worked as a field director for the Republican Party of Florida and as
a top aide to then-House Speaker Marco Rubio. Nocco served two years
as chief of staff at the Florida Highway Patrol before he was hired in
2009 by Sheriff Bob White to be a captain in the agency. In April
2011, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Nocco, then a major in the agency, to
serve White's remaining term. He lives in Odessa with his wife,
Bridget Gregory Nocco, a Tallahassee lobbyist, and their three children.

Maurice Radford, 50, grew up in Escambia County, married his high
school sweetheart and volunteered for the Florida Marine Patrol while
running an auto parts store and a radiator shop. He decided he wanted
to be in law enforcement full time, sold the businesses and graduated
from the police academy in 1986. He worked for the marine patrol until
1999, when he was promoted to regional commander of criminal
investigations for the Department of Environmental Protection. He left
the agency in 2001 to become third in command at the Pasco County
Sheriff's Office under Bob White's tenure. He retired in December,
citing differences with Sheriff Chris Nocco. He lives in Wesley Chapel
with his wife, Nina. They have two children and two grandsons.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt