Florida’s best-known lawman, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, fired back at the Gannett newspaper chain for what he referred to as a smear job on law enforcement officers throughout the state.
The Naples Daily News and Fort Myers News-Press jointly published an article on Friday asserting, “Thousands of tarnished officers around the state have been forced out from another Florida agency for misconduct in the last 30 years.”
“At least 505 of those law enforcement and corrections officers who were given a second chance … later committed an offense that led to decertification,” according to the story, which ran in several Gannett papers in Florida’s biggest markets, including Jacksonville, Pensacola, Lakeland, and Sarasota.
“The vast majority of those officers committed some form of crime, ranging from drug offenses to sexual assault to murder, leaving a trail of victims and at least two dozen lawsuits,” the story continued.
“These officers were able to find work because the main burden for weeding out bad hires in Florida is put on local agencies, and the minimum requirements for officers, established by a state law that some criminal justice experts criticize as weak, did not explicitly disqualify them from employment.”
“The same minimum requirements have left hundreds of questionable hires currently on agency payrolls, including dozens of officers with such poor character that they could be barred from testifying in court,” it said.
However, Judd believed the papers had it backward and engaged in spreading “anti-police horse exhaust” in the process with a report that was “a little underwhelming.”
“Let me set the record straight,” Judd wrote in an op-ed published Sunday in the Fort Myers paper. “There is extraordinarily robust employment screening for law enforcement officers here in Polk County and the state of Florida.”
“What other profession has stricter criminal, neighborhood, employment, and family background investigations than law enforcement? Who else performs comprehensive polygraph examinations for all applicants? What other professions require psychological examinations by mental health professionals? Not teachers, not lawyers, not firefighters, not doctors, not accountants, not reporters, and not preachers.”
Continuing, Judd wrote, “The truth is, we hire from the human race. People make mistakes. We, like any other profession, will end up with some bad apples. We do two things to fight that — rigorously screen new hires — more so than virtually any other industry, and terminate those who don’t live up to our high standards.”
“The article said there were hundreds of questionable hires and thousands who were given second chances, and that experts were critical of how Florida hires officers, and other screeching complaints. The article included this misleading quote: ‘Officers are held to a lesser standard when hired,’” he added.
“This is typical anti-police horse exhaust.”
Noting the existence of state-mandated guidelines for pre-employment screening that Florida law enforcement agencies must adhere to, Judd said, “The article set up a false argument: because law enforcement agencies in Florida have very high, detailed standards for retaining good police officers — Florida is the second-highest in the nation for decertifying officers who failed to live up to the high standards set by the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission (CJSTC) — that by comparison, pre-employment standards in Florida seem lower, according to the reporter.”
“In fact, the opposite is true — there are hundreds of individual steps and processes that screen new police employees — far too many to codify into a simple list, not to mention academy requirements, state certification tests, and other screening processes. In fact, here at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office last year we hired only 11.5% of those who applied to be law enforcement officers — we screened out 88.5% because of our strict pre-employment screening and hiring process.”
Moreover, Judd picked apart the statistical foundation for the article.
The piece noted that at least 505 Florida law enforcement and corrections officers had been “decertified” after being fired by one agency but were subsequently hired by another.
That occurred over 30 years.
“So let’s do the math,” Judd wrote, “there are about 50,000 law enforcement officers in the state of Florida and about 30,000 correctional officers — a total of 80,000. That’s a tiny .6% considering just one year. Think of the numbers of officers who have been hired, honorably served, and resigned or retired over the last 30 years — the number would be in the hundreds of thousands.”
“The real percentage of decertified officers they were claiming was so terrible would approach a minuscule 1 tenth of 1%. Three decades of data — what a disappointment. This article presents a made-up, fake problem designed to sling mud on the policing profession.”
“The article is a misleading pile of meaningless statistics and non-sense quotes,” Judd concluded. “Law enforcement is one of the most scrutinized and criticized professions by our modern media and left-wing advocacy organizations.”
“The truth is that police officers are still among the most highly trusted professions by the general public. Hard working Americans see through the anti-cop propaganda — they support their local law enforcement officers. They know we are here to keep them safe and protect their families, property, and livelihoods. They know that the difficult job of policing is done well, honorably, and dutifully by good and decent people.”