Read our exclusive Q&A with Orange County sheriff candidate Jose "Joe" Lopez.
Why have you decided to run for county sheriff?
I retired 16 months ago as a Chief from the Florida Highway Patrol, prior to that I was a United States Marine, then a Boy Scout, a Cub Scout, a Jr Naval cadet and an Altar Boy in the Bronx. I’ve been serving my community for 45 plus years, it's not just a job – it’s a calling, a sense of duty to serve my community. I served my nation, I served my state and now I want to serve my local community to make Orange County a safer place to raise families.
Why should citizens elect you to this position?
I am not a politician – I am a cop. I am not part of the establishment, and the establishment is worried that they will lose their power if I am elected. I am an outsider, I will shake things up. I am a change agent, and the citizens want change and are tired of the same old politics (where) nothing gets done. When you vote for me, you are voting for Integrity, Loyalty and Effective Leadership.
- Integrity – My integrity is not based on one incident; my integrity is based on 32 years as a state trooper and more specifically my last 13 years as a commander and executive leadership. Not only do I hold the criminals and my subordinates accountable, but I also hold my self-accountable.
- Loyalty – I have been loyal to my country as I served as a United States Marine for almost 5 years, loyal to my state as a I served as State trooper for 32 yrs., I have been married and loyal to my wife for 28 years.
- Effective Leadership – I built teams and mentor future leaders, to prepare them to lead. I value my team members and I believe in the leadership philosophy of leading through emotional intelligence (EQ).
What are the three biggest needs of the Sheriff’s Department now, and what would you do to fill that need?
- Hire more deputies to fill the vacancies to reduce the response times:
- I will immediately begin an aggressive recruitment campaign to fill the current vacancies while also reviewing hiring practices.
- Retaining the professional men and women who currently serve our community must also be a priority. We invest a small fortune to train, equip and pay the average deputy in the academy, only to have them leave the profession or for another agency.
- Improving deputy morale will have lasting ripple effects. One of the first things I’ll assemble when I’m elected is an internal advisory board. This body will comprise of a cross-section of the department and give me the opportunity to listen to concerns, ideas and opinions and work to determine how we could incorporate some of those ideas.
- Better pay and benefits for the members of the Orange County Sheriff’s office
- Work with the Orange County Government to increase deputy pay and benefits to be competitive with local agencies.
- Improving deputy morale:
- This body will comprise of a cross-section of the department and give me the opportunity to listen to concerns, ideas and opinions and work to determine how we could incorporate some of those ideas.
- Keep the followers motivated by being engaged myself and recognizing them for a job well done.
My experience working for the government taught me that when you silence voices – no matter what role or rank they hold in the organization – you can miss things, and bad stuff can happen.
Despite population growth, Orange County's overall crime rate dropped nearly 4 percent in 2017. What is your strategy to continue this trend?
- We will be aggressive in focusing on priority offenders with a history of violent crime who continually prey on our community. We will work closely with the State Attorney’s Office to ensure once they’ve been arrested, they receive appropriate sentences to keep them behind bars.
- Violent crime isn’t an issue unique to Orange County but it is a serious one that we have to get our arms around. I’m committed to addressing this issue head-on and everything is on the table. This includes restructuring the department's specialty units to prioritize the reduction of violent crime.
- Violent crime reduction will also require us to police not only harder, but smarter. We need to invest in our community with the most up to date crime-fighting technology to keep community members safe. Elements of technology I will bring to Orange County include in part:
- Predictive analytics has proven successful and has been described as a revolutionary innovation capable of stopping crime before it starts through captured data and focusing on hot spots.
- ShotSpotter is a system that detects the location of gunfire using acoustic sensors. Larger departments across the country have experienced a reduction in guns after investing in this innovative crime-fighting technology. Orange County community members deserve nothing less of this type of investment to keep them safe.
Some west orange residents have expressed frustration with Orange County Sheriff's Office response times. What measures would you consider taking to improve police response times?
- One of the many issues low response times is due to insufficient patrol deputies on the road. This is a result of deputies being reassigned as School Resource Officers and other specialty units, and unfilled vacant positions through attrition and deputies leaving to other agencies.
- I will expedite the hiring process for new deputies to fill the current vacancies
- I will place more deputies on the streets (where crimes are being committed) and to the Patrol Division to tackle crime headon.
If elected, how would you promote community involvement and improve communication between the department and the public?
When elected I will begin building trust and legitimacy with our community, which is a pillar of my pursuit of engagement.
I will ensure transparency between the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and community. (I will) create a partnership with the communities of different ethics, the private sector, and the faith-based community. I will immediately establish an external advisory group of citizens, business owners and clergy and begin to have the tough, honest discussions necessary to keep our community safe and bridge the gap between the community and the Orange County Sheriff’s office is critical in keeping our community a safe one.
Very little of what law enforcement does should be done in secret. We are doing the peoples work, and the people should have an opportunity to see what law enforcement is doing specifically to keep them safe. I call it responsible transparency.
A law enforcement organization could not possibly be an effective one without the relentless pursuit of creating relationships with the people we serve. Legitimacy and trust are more than just words, they are the bedrock of my policing philosophy.
Youth engagement – I would include community partnerships dealing with topics such as bullying, gangs, opioids, drug deterrence, etc.
How would you work to keep incarceration rates down?
I would continue to encourage deputies to utilize civil citations for juvenile who commit minor crimes and to utilize Notice to Appear affidavits for minor and non-violent misdemeanor crimes. I would invest in our youth to keep them on track for success and keep them out of trouble and engaging them by establishing mentor programs, allowing deputies to utilize work time to attend schools and mentor school-aged children, sponsor after-school sports programs for youth and partner with sports and entertainment celebrities.