- November 30, 2022
Although he had always entertained dreams of becoming a police officer, he never really considered himself as leadership material.
But as of Dec. 4, 2018, John Mina, 50, is now the head of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and in charge of about 2,600 deputies.
Before running for Orange County sheriff, which was previously occupied by newly elected Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings for nine years, Mina served in various roles throughout his 28-year law-enforcement career with the Orlando Police Department.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Stanhope, New Jersey, Mina was recruited by OPD while stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, during his three-year service in the U.S. Army as a military police officer.
A LEADER IN THE MAKING
“I always considered myself a hard worker, although I never really thought of myself as a leader or thought I could be a leader,” Mina said. “But in the Army, I had people kind of pushing me along and saying, ‘Hey, you need to better yourself and get more education and take these leadership courses.’ And then when I got to the police academy, the same continued with supervisors and friends who encouraged me to be a leader.
“They would tell me I could go as high as I wanted,” he said. “Hearing that at a young age, I started thinking, ‘Maybe I could.’ And as I acquired more experience and rose through the ranks I started gaining more confidence. And here we are now.”
Prior to his appointment as Orlando police chief — a role he held from 2014 to 2018 — Mina worked as a patrol officer and a SWAT team commander. He also worked with OPD’s drug-enforcement unit and conducted criminal and sex-crime investigations.
During his four years as OPD chief, Mina handled several crises, including the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, the shooting death of Lt. Debra Clayton in 2017 and the 21-hour hostage standoff that ended with the death of four children in 2018.
After leading OPD during such tragedies, Mina is no stranger to the challenges that come with being the public face and leader of a law-enforcement agency.
“Being Orlando police chief has prepared me well for this position,” he said. “There’s been many challenges. This can be a very dangerous job. I’ve lost officers, and we’ve also had officers involved in very critical errors and mistakes. And more often than not, that can really weigh on leaders, because sometimes you feel the brunt of that. Even though it wasn’t you involved, you sometimes have to take that head-on anyway.”
In his new role, Mina knows he will face similar challenges. But what particularly intrigued him about the position was the higher independence and his direct accountability to the people.
“The biggest difference is that, before, I answered to the Orlando mayor and City Commission, whereas now, I’m a constitutional officer elected by the people — and that was one of the things that enticed me to run for sheriff,” he said. “And I liked the idea of being more independent. I’m looking forward to that part.”
Mina said he also is looking forward to taking action on his specific priorities for the county, including crime reduction, school safety, officer recruitment, drug enforcement and community engagement.
“I think Orange County is a pretty safe place to live and work already, but obviously my priority will be to reduce crime even further, specifically violent crime,” he said. “Another priority of mine is school safety, which I think is on everyone’s mind. But I think it’s important to make sure parents and students alike feel safe at school. And one of the ways I can help with that is to make sure we’re on track to have a deputy at every single school. Here in Orange County, we’re already in good shape, because we have two at every high school, and one at every middle school, and the gap was at the elementary school. So we’re working toward filling that gap, and we’re almost there. When we recruit and hire more deputies, that gap will close.”
Another one of his priorities is boosting public engagement and interagency collaboration. He has a few successful community-led programs and public-engagement initiatives in mind from OPD that he hopes to bring to the sheriff’s office.
He also will ensure attention is given to the issue of drug abuse, he said.
“Another big issue is heroin and opioid abuse,” Mina noted. “We’re not the only community that faces that issue, because it’s a nationwide problem with many people overdosing. We’ve done a good job so far making sure our deputies and officers are issued Narcan to save lives.”
The former Orlando police chief and Army veteran is aware his new job will come with its own unique set of challenges, but as someone who was taught the value of hard work — starting with his first job in high school as a dishwasher — he expects his hard work, and that of his deputies, will be worth it as long as the community stays safe.
“I just really enjoy helping keep this community safe and having an impact,” Mina said. “Everyone wants to catch the bad guys. Don’t get me wrong: I love the part when bad guys go to jail. But there’s also the aspect of having a real impact on our community, particularly our youth. … And I thank everyone who supported me. I’m going to listen to the needs of this community. I’m willing to work with everyone to do what we can to make improvements because there’s always room to get better and ensure people trust us to help make the community safer.”