We continue our discussion with Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who, if re-elected in 2020 to another term, is likely to become the county’s longest-serving sheriff of all-time. For the rest of our conversation, pick up the January issue of Boca!
Tell us about the role a county sheriff, and why it’s important for this position to exist.
Just about every state has sheriffs. They’re all elected, and they’re all countywide sheriffs. It’s pretty much across the United States. It’s the oldest form of law enforcement in existence—it really hasn’t changed since the Sheriff of Nottingham.
It’s not that it’s more important than cities—it just has different roles. I was a police chief before I was a sheriff, and the only difference is, sheriffs, in most cases, run the jails. They provide security for the airports, the seaports, and have a larger, expanded role and, more times than not, more resources than cities. But you’re the chief law enforcement officer for the entire county.
We’re back in season again; President Trump may make many visits to Mar-a-Lago. Having dealt with presidential visits since 2017, how do they impact the local police force?
They don’t impact it as far as our ability to do it, because we have the necessary manpower and special units to be able to do it. It’s a matter of expending the funds, which is about $85,000 a day while he’s here, and then getting the reimbursement in a timely fashion. It wasn’t very timely to start with. The federal government has tightened up on that, and we’ve developed a process where we get the money back for reimbursement much quicker.
The opioid epidemic seems to have leveled off from where it was a few years ago, when places like Delray were ground zero for it. What has the county done to improve this issue?
We work with the Task Force through the state attorney’s office, not to mention the fact that all the drug prevention programs we try to get into the schools and the boys’ and girls’ clubs, and all the other things we do to try to prevent rather than react. So that has been a tremendous impact. It’s got a long way’s to go, but it’s not the horrible epidemic it was before.
If you had the power to change a law, what would it be?
Probably the one that restricts our access to mental health records. I have my own mental health unit that’s comprised of deputies and mental health professionals. Unfortunately, we’re the largest mental health provider in the county, and it’s at the jail. There’s people in there that probably shouldn’t have been in there. If you go back and look at people that are involved in mass shootings, mental health issues [are prevalent]. That doesn’t mean everybody that’s mentally hill is violent; it just means that those issues were present. So in order to address those things, you need to have access to people that are out here that are mentally unbalanced that we come into contact with.
But because of HIPAA laws, those files can’t be accessed in a timely fashion. You can go through court orders, but sometimes you need to get this information in a timely manner. If you, right now, go to apply to buy a firearm, that information is not a database where you may have been Baker Acted or you may have some severe mental issues that may render you dangerous to yourself or the public. That’s not in the database. You could get a firearm, and have these issues, and not be turned down because it’s not in the database. The information needs to be in some type of database. I’m not saying every issue that’s involved in your medical history—I’m saying if you had a mental health professional that was treating you, and that professional knew that you were a danger to yourself or somebody else, that information should be available to law enforcement.