Sheriff Marco Lopez is still getting his new administration in order after taking office earlier this month.
“We’ve had some difficulties transitioning here. I wasn’t allowed to transition the way a normal administration would,” said Lopez, a Democrat who defeated his predecessor Russ Gibson in the August primary.
He went on to defeat Tony Fernandez, who ran as a no-party affiliate, in November to become the first Hispanic Sheriff in Osceola County. Both Lopez and Fernandez worked for the Sheriff’s Office before running for office.
“We demoted quite a few people. But some people were let go because we just didn't have room for them in our administration. But other than that everything stays the same and operational,” he said.
“We’ve been working extra hours to keep up but we’re getting it done and it’s not compromising the safety of the community,” he said.
Addressing the needs of the county’s majority Hispanic population is among his top priorities.
“The Hispanic community had very basic, reasonable requests,” such as more Spanish-speaking 911 operators and deputies, he said.
“They just want better communication with us. Our administration definitely has to be diversified,” he said.
However, Lopez said, it can’t happen overnight.
“Right now, the way the administration is, it has to stand because we don’t have these minorities qualified for these jobs. And I can’t put a Hispanic in there to meet a diversity need. We’re not putting untrained people in these positions.”
Lopez, who campaigned on bringing more transparency to the agency, is implementing a plan for his first 100 days in office that includes establishing a civilian panel to address community concerns, including how and why officers are disciplined.
“Our Community Advisory Review Board is really going to be a big part of being transparent. It’s going to be an informative board and the meetings will be open to the public,” he said.
People want to know the agency’s policies, particularly when it comes to disciplining officers, he said.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand that officers have a Bill of Rights in the state of Florida,” he said.
“It’s not like we can put them out there and hang them out to dry. They have rights too and we want to respect those rights. But when we process it we can explain to the citizens so they can understand why we do things and how we do it.”