News Stories / Being The Sheriff Of Monroe County Is Not An Easy Job


By John L. Guerra


The man at the top is responsible for deputies responding to events on the road that runs the length of the Keys — fatal car accidents, exploding fuel trucks, drunk drivers, hit and runs, pedestrian and bicyclist’s deaths, you name it. He also is the top law enforcement officer overseeing drug interdiction, homicide cases, burglaries, rapes, any crime committed by humanity that’s not in Key West or other Keys municipalities.



He commands more than 500 employees — that’s 500 men and women with various personality types — including homicide detectives, drug interdiction teams, a bomb squad, scuba dive team, and other special operations units; road patrol deputies, bailiffs, corrections officers, airport security, and administrative staff. Not to mention a marine unit and an air unit. And his organization oversees the Monroe County Detention Center and its cells in substations in Marathon and Key Largo.



He has (the county has yet to elect a woman sheriff) of course, an undersheriff and commanders under him to help keep the entire infrastructure working: Law enforcement, investigations, running the jail, delivering prisoners to court, public relations, first response to hurricanes, flooding, whatever one can imagine going wrong with nature and man.



Who would want a job like that?



“My whole life I knew I was either going to be a lawman or fly helicopters in the Army,” said Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsey, who marked his first year as sheriff in January. “I always knew what I would do.”



It was not what his father wanted for him. As an 11-year-old kid, the future sheriff pumped gas after school and helped his father run the family business, Surfside Gulf in Marathon.



“I told him I wanted to go into law enforcement and he never liked the idea,” said Ramsey, who speaks easily. “The family garage wasn’t in my plans.”



The younger Ramsey, however, did what young men and women must do: Follow their path, plot their own lives. He joined the Sheriff’s Department in 1987 (he is a 27-year veteran) and applied himself. His father began to understand and came around, Ramsey said.



“Initially he was not a big fan. After about 2 ½ years, he saw that I made sergeant pretty early, that I was doing good and was happy doing it.”



Rick Ramsay is not a careless man. He rose through the ranks — as all successful law enforcement officers do — by learning as much as he could about crime fighting and displaying skill, determination and hard work.



“He works more hours than anyone I know, and always has,” said Deputy Becky Herrin, herself a veteran and an energetic public information officer. “And he doesn’t just talk the talk — he walks the walk.”



He worked in many of the units he now oversees. When asked about the most rewarding arrest or accomplishment in his career, Ramsey wasn’t keen on singling himself out.



“It’s so hard to pick one out, because everyone in these investigations and arrests work together in teams,” he said. “The hard-working professionals in the department bring the results.”



He began, of course, as a road deputy, patrolling a section of U.S. 1 and the residential areas on each side of the main artery of the Keys. He later took part in narcotics operations, served as both a member and a team leader in the department’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit. He was a motorcycle officer for a time and participated in special operations that included informants doing drug buys and other investigative techniques.



He’s proud of his drug enforcement work.



“As detective sergeant, I rebuilt the drug enforcement unit from the ground up. We went from street buys and dealers to warrants and going into homes to solve kilo cases,” he said. “It was satisfying to see that other agencies wanted to work with us in these operations, including the FBI, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and Customs.”



His hard work paid off; he served as under-sheriff for nine years until voters gave him this job.


While sheriffs in other jurisdictions in the country carry a shotgun, shells and road flares in their trunks, Ramsay not only carries the tools of his profession, such as his radio and side arm, he also has a can of paint in his trunk. It is that can of paint more than anything else that symbolizes his philosophy of crime fighting in Monroe County.



Ramsay subscribes to the Broken Window theory of community policing, first introduced in a 1982 article by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George J. Kelling. The theory posits that vandalism and graffiti in neighborhoods indicate a neighborhood’s decline into more serious crime. By eradicating graffiti and performing neighborhood cleanup operations, police departments not only reduce the atmosphere that leads to crime, its deputies, patrolmen and residents together. Police learn about residents and residents can’t help but get to know the police that serve them. The hope is that better communication, working together, and who knows, have fun, too, increases the effectiveness of policing.



“We do 50 neighborhood or roadside cleanups a year,” Ramsay said. “I require any deputy who sees graffiti to paint over it within 24 hours. They know I’m serious about it and they have to do it. It’s mandatory.”



Ramsay made arrangements with Waste Management, which operates the transfer center next to the detention center on College Road, for cans of paint slated for the trash. Waste Management gives the recycled paint, of various colors, to the sheriff’s department.



“I carry several cans in my trunk at all times,” he said. “I also require deputies to locate areas that need cleanup and require them to schedule and hold community cleanups. It’s only for a couple of hours on Saturday morning.”



“He is all about community service,” Herrin said. “That has been a big push in the agency — community clean ups, road clean up crews from the jail, working with the MARC House on various events and he is on a number of charitable boards.”



But deputies, who don’t have to run for office, aren’t certain of all the cleanups and community outreach.



He admits that some deputies grumbled about the requirement and took some convincing, much as he had to convince his father about his career in law enforcement.



“I know it wasn’t something they were used to doing, but I told them it will make them feel good about doing it. People are thankful, and it makes us more human, more approachable,” Ramsay said.



And guess what… according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement, crime in the areas patrolled by the sheriff’s department is down 12.5 percent. Not only that, but the case clearance rate rose from 24.4 percent in 2012 to 29.7 percent in 2013, the year Ramsay took over.



Ramsay isn’t ready to say his community outreach and cleanup programs are the only reason the crime rate went down, but it has increased the number of calls from residents with information about crime in their neighborhoods.



“I think the crime rate fell for the most part because of the hard work done by the members of the sheriff’s department from road deputies to detectives, everyone had a hand in it,” Ramsay said.



Ramsay has three more years to serve and he’s not going to slow down.



“He’s the hardest working man I know,” Herrin said.

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