April 19, 2020
By Sarah McCormick
The Sheriff’s Office in Polk County normally has their work cut out for them on any given day of the year, but since COVID-19 hit the State, however, things have been looking a lot different for both the community and local law enforcement.
Sheriff Grady Judd has been in law enforcement since 1972 when he began working for the Polk County Sheriff’s Department as a dispatcher. He worked his way up through the ranks, taking on various roles, and being elected Sheriff of Polk in 2004. He has been subsequently elected 3 times since. Known for his witty and memorable quotes, and genuinely caring for his community and deputies, Sheriff Judd has become a local and national celebrity.
Sheriff Judd and I sat on the phone and had a really nice detailed conversation regarding the current state of events in Polk, what he believes the response of the public has been and shared some insight into changes he has noticed – both good and bad – within the local community.
Says Judd of the overall community response to the crisis, “This community and its response has been absolutely remarkable. There are always going to be those few who are non-compliant, but crime has gone down. The community has been very responsive to the Governor’s Safer-At-Home order. This is all about flattening the curve. We must recognize this is a pandemic. I always say we must be cautious and calm, but not panic-stricken.”
Although crime has gone down, the Sheriff stated that what he believes is due to the current situation with the virus, job loss and stress, they have seen a dramatic increase in calls for suicide by 12% since this time last March, Domestic Violence by 15.5%, and overdose by 50%. The numbers are indeed troubling but are expected during times of great distress.
He said of Governor Ron DeSantis and his authority during this time, “The Governor is doing a good job. Politics rush in events like this, and that’s wrong. The virus doesn’t care if you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent or otherwise. It doesn’t discriminate. Someone will always be critical anytime an event like this occurs.”
When asked if Sheriff Judd believed President Trump had a good handle on the situation in America overall, and if he believed there should be anything the President could have done differently, his response was this, “Donald Trump stopped flights into and from China very early on. Think of the criticism he would have come under if he had shut it down (any sooner). His response has been game-on. His experts have been game-on. He goes face-to-face with the nation every day. He doesn’t have to do that.”
His advice to people of the community is, “Continue doing the wonderful job you’re doing now. Even the criminals have stayed inside because they don’t want to spend time in jail. We have not released any criminals from our jails into the public because of COVID, because the last thing people want to worry about when faced with job loss and sickness is criminals breaking into their homes and other criminal activity. In addition, we have made zero arrests due to non-compliance because we just haven’t had to.”
When asked about his idea on a timeframe when Polk would be able to re-open for business as usual, he stated “The real challenge is how to open up industry again safely as there will be hot spots. What we don’t quite know yet is the unintended consequences of all of this until a vaccine comes out. That being said, people need to understand that one size doesn’t fit all. City and local leaders, hospitals, and businesses will need to come together to discuss and go over data, and when we are comfortable in doing so, we will re-open the community as rapidly as possible. We don’t want to destroy everything we have worked so hard for by opening too quickly. I do think there will be a new normal.”
He went on to say that even when the community is able to be reopened again, things like large social gatherings and sporting events alike may need to be postponed for a bit longer. Taking a risk on things that involve many large groups or gatherings of people just might need to be held on the back burner for a bit longer to ensure everyone’s health and safety. He also mentioned that he had conversations with a few ministers in the local area who were afraid of being arrested, much like what has been happening across the country. He assured them that wouldn’t happen.
One of the most important bits of advice Sheriff Judd had during our talk was this, “Those who haven’t been financially impacted by the situation – do something special for someone else. This is the time where you go above and beyond. Help your neighbors. Help that small mom and pop business. Place an order to keep their business alive. Donate money to the places you normally go, if you are able. I still send my barber a check every week that I would normally spend because I am able to. I’ve seen Polk looking out for one another and I think it’s just incredible to see the community come together the way it has. Just continue helping one another.”
We have included a series of Sheriff Grady Judd’s 2019 most memorable quotes, to brighten your day.