The Broward County Sheriff's Office (BSO) is one of the largest sheriff's departments in the country. It provides law enforcement, firefighting, and emergency medical services to areas across the county as well as other services like corrections and parole supervision. Sheriff Al Lamberti is facing two declared contenders in the November election. Here, we interview the first of the candidates, Scott Israel.
The Pulp: What's the biggest problem you see in the BSO today?
Scott Israel: Lack of leadership. People are only led by people they want to be led by. They don't want to be led by our sheriff. I hear terms [from contacts at BSO] like "rudderless ship."
Are you talking about dissension in the ranks?
Not just in the ranks. It's countywide. I think different industries are aware of it. People are reading about it.
This seems like a good time for us to mention the anonymous book that was recently published, which alleged serious corruption at BSO, credited Scott Rothstein for Lamberti's appointment, and alleged that "the fifth floor was on lockdown" at BSO headquarters. For all we know, you wrote it...
I didn't write the book. I did read a book one time that says "We reap what we sow." If [any of the allegations] is fact, then I hope the public will be made aware of it. If it's affecting the [sheriff's] ability to lead the community, it should be made public.
What about your own ability to lead?
It's exemplary. I have a pristine record, and I certainly understand the meaning of the word pristine. I was voted Democrat of the Year, and the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association voted me Chief of the Year [of North Bay Village]. I worked on programs to keep kids out of jail, instead of putting them in jail when they commit crimes.
Speaking of that "Democrat of the Year" thing. New Times put you on its Dirty Dozen list in 2008, and one of the main reasons we cited was your pragmatic switch from lifelong Republican to Democrat just in time to challenge Lamberti, a Republican, that November. What gives?
Here's the story. I grew up in a Democratic household in New York City and learned the ideals of Dr. King: to ask what you are doing for others, and that we should be our brother's keeper. But when I registered to vote for the first time in Long Island, I registered as a Republican, and I never bothered to change it.
You worked as a police officer in Fort Lauderdale, a medium-sized city, then became chief in the tiny town of North Bay Village. Did this adequately prepare you for taking on the huge, sprawling BSO?
I spent 25 years with the Fort Lauderdale Police, which is one of the largest police forces in the area, and rose to the positions of community policing commander, SWAT commander, and operational support commander. As far as North Bay Village: Leadership is not about size. It's about making sure your team is behind you and about what you do with the resources you have and getting things done through others. Al Lamberti is from one of the largest departments [he spent 30 years in the ranks at BSO], but his leadership has been abysmal.
As a SWAT commander, I directed people to take the life of a subject. I made some life-taking decisions, and it wasn't easy.
Let's talk about public accountability. We in the media get frustrated when a deputy-involved-shooting investigation stalls with little information released, for example.
I believe the BSO is owned by the people, and it's got to be like Denny's: open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That said, in many aspects of a shooting investigation, the officers are protected by a bill of rights. But whatever can be given to the public will be distributed to the public. If the officers did everything right, I will go before the cameras and say so. If they made mistakes, I'll say that too.
What's your view of the sheriff himself as a liaison to the public and the media?
If something is truly a public record, there will be no roadblocks. I'm not hiding anything. I will be visible and available. I'm a leader, not a manager.
Your campaign got some flak in the 11th hour in 2008 because of some controversial fliers, including one showing black candidate Wiley Thompson in a bow tie (something this paper called "a brilliant attempt to suggest Uncle Tom sellout to black voters and black Muslim to paranoid white voters").
I have no knowledge of any kind of publications that went out about that.
You also hired a "ruthless" campaign adviser, Judy Stern, who was extremely well-connected locally.
Judy did a fantastic job running the campaign last time. We won the Democratic primary and lost the general election by a very small margin. She's not running my campaign this time.
Why do you think Lamberti pulled ahead by that small margin?
I'm being told by a lot of political pundits that it was Scott Rothstein's money.
During the last campaign, allegations surfaced that you had shoplifted [cologne at the Galleria Mall] while on duty and that the internal affairs investigation records were subsequently lost. Care to address that?
The shoplifting allegations are an absolute lie. Fiction. Aladdin's magic lamp. Never happened. It's preposterous. I never shoplifted anything in my life.
And the internal affairs investigation? [Here, Israel addresses different IA investigations, concerning use of force, not the shoplifting.]
I became a cop in 1979, and in 2004, I retired from Fort Lauderdale. The department estimated that I made approximately 1,500 arrests. Of those, four white men came in and made complaints of excessive force. In all those cases, my partners and I absolutely used force. It was legal, and it was justifiable. The way I explain it, is some people don't want to go to jail. Each complaint was not sustained.
And the shoplifting investigation?
Florida State Statutes direct internal affairs units to purge complaints made against police officers if they are not sustained. They purged my files. [An earlier Sun-Sentinel report on the charges said that "state and city law dictate the records be kept 50 years past the termination of employment. Police spokesman Sgt. Frank Sousa said... that the current administration has not purged any officers' records."]
More recently, we've given Lamberti some heat for contracting with the producers of the TV show Police Women of Broward County. Would you allow that show to continue?
Absolutely not. It's demoralizing to see that we would be making arrests and what have you with self-promotion in mind. There are allegations as to who was paying [the policewomen] while they were performing their duties. A lot of issues. Police departments exist for two reasons: to reduce crime and enhance the quality of life. Would I cancel the contract? Absolutely.
You don't need to go out and have "bagels with the sheriff." You have to be walking the walk, doing your job.
What are your thoughts on the BSO's weeks-long investigation of the TSA officer who took Rick Case's pen? Was that appropriate?
Would John Doe have been treated the same way [as Case, the victim in that investigation]? One would have to come to the conclusion that he would not. It's never been done before.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Anything you're hearing about me and would like to ask, ask me. I have a pristine record.
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.