LARGO -- Jim Coats sees the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office as a department in "service to the people."
In that respect, he is much like his predecessor, Everett Rice, who is wrapping up 16 years as sheriff and is heading to Tallahassee to be a legislator.
When citizens encounter deputies and have experiences -- pleasant or unpleasant -- Coats is now the guy who is going to hear about it.
With almost 900 uniformed deputies, the Sheriff's Office is the predominant law enforcement outfit in the county. By operation of law, every deputy is an extension of the sheriff, so Coats, like Rice, wants his people to reflect well on the department.
"People deserve respect and courtesy," said Coats, who received the endorsement of voters in the August 31 primary election. "If there is a problem, we will handle it in a professional and reasonable way."
An aspect of a Sheriff's Office that does not obtain with regular police departments is that the guy who heads it up -- the sheriff -- is an elected official.
Consequently, because of the nature of politics, the person in that job does not want to offend members of the public to his possible adverse benefit when voting time rolls around. Still, integrity must be maintained.
One sheriff once said, "I don't want our people giving out a lot of tickets unless the offense is serious enough to really warrant a ticket."
Coats brings a lot of technical know-how to the Sheriff's Office. He has been on the cutting edge of technology in law enforcement in his 31 years in the Sheriff's Office and particularly over the past nine years when he served as Rice's chief deputy.
Not bad for a guy who landed in the Sheriff's Office almost by accident in the early 1970s. Of such fateful turns is life made.
Besides playing a role in the technology that modern science has brought to law enforcement, Coats has been the fellow who has coordinated the day to day administrative procedure of the Sheriff's Office and it is he who prioritizes the budget for final review by the sheriff.
He has kept an eye on expenses. For example, a study of food service at the jail where, Coats says, 10,000 meals a day are served, found that outsourcing the service could save $400,000 a year, and eliminated county expense of warehousing, a cooking staff, etc.
The commissary at the jail -- where inmates buy their candy, shaving cream, and other notions -- has also been outsourced at his initiative, again at a significant savings. A percentage of the profits from the provider goes to inmate programs.
Coats has also transferred personnel and trimmed ranking officers from jobs that civilians could perform, such as in the records department. From having half a dozen majors on the staff in 1996, that figure has been reduced to three majors.
Crime data has been analyzed, taking into account patterns and trends which almost gives law enforcement a heads up on anticipating where certain types of crimes are going to be committed.
He freely acknowledges that the strides in progress took place because of Rice's openess to improving efficiency and cutting costs.
"I promoted a lot of things with the Sheriff, and once we got the go ahead received a lot of staff support," Coats says.
His vision statement, he says, is to be conscious of the bottom line, demand high performance for ways leading to a safer Pinellas County.
Coats says he believes in empowering people. With a total of almost 3,000 employees under his command, he believes in giving them the opportunity for input. "I like to listen to people at all levels," he says. "I don't like the dictatorial approach."
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