Sheriff candidates answer questions
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING - A former deputy who decided to become a pastor, and a child who dreamed of being a nun.
Published: October 30, 2012
Published: October 30, 2012
Highlands County's candidates for sheriff were both deputies under previous sheriffs, and both came to around the same time: Susan Benton in 1978; Candido Garcia in 1981.
Benton grew up in Miami, where she played basketball, volleyball, softball and led cheers at Monsignor Edward Pace High School. In fact, she was female athlete of the year.
A Catholic, her childhood dream was to be a nun. Instead, she was a telephone operator one summer for Southern Bell, and later coached, taught physical education and Spanish. In college, she caught the law enforcement bug, and got on with the Miami-Dade Police Department.
She came to Highlands County when her husband, Trooper Jim Benton, was transferred by the Florida Highway Patrol.
Rev. Candido Garcia is called Candi. "That's with an I," he says. At Iglesia Cristo Te Ama – Outreach Community Church, he's the senior pastor. He claims over 25 years in law enforcement, which includes jobs as a police officer in Puerto Rico, the public defender and Highlands County Sheriff's Office.
He is a director on the Habitat for Humanity board and the Florida Men of Integrity board, chairs the Association of Hispanic Christian Ministers of Florida, and he is a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Homeless Coalition of Highlands County, and the Ministerial Association of Avon Park, Sebring, Lake Placid.
Garcia is a former Florida Guardian Ad Litem, a former campus life manager and founder of Youth Academy Avon Park and a former police academy instructor.
The candidates were asked five questions.
Q: Does Highlands County have more crime per capita than other Florida counties? What can the sheriff do to reduce crime?
Benton: No. According to the UCR report located on the FDLE website for the 2011 year, Highlands County Sheriff's Office was the lowest crime rate in the county (2,617 per 100,000) and lower than the state average (4,070 per 100,000).
The cities: Avon Park: 5,707 per 100,000; Lake Placid: 4,781 per 100,000; Sebring: 5,246 per 100,000.
Garcia: Comparing this county to other adjacent counties is higher, but there are other counties with higher crime per capita. My leadership experience, I am committed to fight crime and bring peace and order to this county. I will implant (implement) a comprehensive strategy plan that will protect our communities and neighborhoods with more road patrol.
Q: What will you do differently at the sheriff's office or the jail in 2013?
Garcia: I will bring a higher standard of integrity, honesty, loyalty and relationship among the employees of the sheriff office. In the jail, I will bring more programs to enhance productivity in the inmate's life and inquiring the counseling of chaplains.
Benton: I will continue to look for ways to meet the ever increasing budget shortfalls while continuing to provide service to meet the demands of the citizens we serve and most importantly providing the tools to keep our members safe and going home alive at the end of their shifts. There will be new legislative demands, like the proposed shift in sentencing guidelines that will keep more offenders in county jail longer rather than going to state prison, things like that will drive us to do things differently operationally as well as a shift if cost.
Q: Describe the relationship between the sheriff and the county commissioners and county administrators.
Garcia: I will commit to work with the leaders of this county in unity for the best interest of our residents and to improve the quality of life.
Benton: The Office of Sheriff is an independent Constitutional Office like the Clerk, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, Supervisor of Elections. My relationship with the Board and their staff is one of cooperation and coordination. There is no authoritative role of supervision one over the other. With that said there is a mutual responsibility by both to meet the statutory obligations of their office. This requires trust and understanding of each other's role within the local government system. To this end, I think that over the years we have proven that together we get things done and we get them done with the most efficiency and the least cost to our taxpayers.
Q: List three currently provided nonessential services that could be cut if the budget must be reduced next year.
Garcia: Currently, everything is essential in the budget however, I will commit in making the right decision for the best interest of the county in reducing the cost of some services.
Benton: The only services that I can think of that we currently do that are not required as primary law enforcement services would be (she listed each cut and results of the potential cut): Crime prevention services – no neighborhood watch, no educational programs, no prevention initiatives, no citizen involvement/training; public information services – no timely reporting of events to media, lack of safety information to public; school resource deputies – deputies pulled off the road to handle school issues, lack of security for students and staff, no personal safety education for students; school crossing guards – danger for students walking to school, potential of risk for serious injury; cut the number of deputies on the street – longer wait times, no directed patrol time, no time for traffic enforcement, less availability for emergencies.
Q: How many hours can (or do you) devote to the office of sheriff?
Garcia: In my opinion the sheriff should not have set hours; I have to be available when needed even past the established worked hours.
Benton: Well, I devote all of my time to the Office of Sheriff, however, physically at work I would say I average about 65 hours per week and additionally on call or on the phone or computer all of the time.
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