Q: What are your top priorities for the Sheriff’s Office?
A: We just finished our strategic planning within our office, something we do annually to stay current, and we identified three priorities. The first one is to build and move into a facility for our Operations and General Services departments. We pride ourselves on delivering superior customer service to the citizens of St. Johns County, but we also want to have efficiency and be a nice place to work. The second is closely tied to the first, and that is to continue to prioritize compensation and benefits for all St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office employees. We need to pay them adequately so they can afford to work, live and play in St. Johns County. Finally, refurbishing and expanding our jail — to prepare for the county’s growth as well as provide the additional services required by our inmate population — will allow us to continue our mission to have people leave us in better shape than when they came.

Q: Can you give more details as to why a new sheriff’s office is needed?
A: Currently, our departments that are housed outside of the new Training and Communications Center (off Interstate 95) are located in five buildings as well as assorted smaller buildings spread throughout the county — and, in addition to many of these buildings being older, none of them were designed to handle the work of the Sheriff’s Office. For instance, our Youth Resources, Traffic, and Internet Crimes Against Children departments are housed in the old jail, built in 1953. The Office of the Sheriff and our Community Engagement Division are located in the old Wise potato chip building. Our Risk Management and Human Resources departments are housed in a building that originally was occupied by the county’s medical examiner. Also, all these buildings had to be evacuated during recent hurricanes, which although we are grateful to our partner Ring Power, which allowed us to use its building, is not an ideal situation for the Sheriff’s Office.

Q: What would the new office contain and where do you think it would be located?
A: The new building would contain the Operations Department (including Criminal Investigations) as well as General Services (including records, finance, risk division, IT, fleet, and the Office of the Sheriff). We would have office space for our command level team and the building would have space to allow us to hold meetings with the community. It would have to be a Category 5 building so that we don’t have to evacuate in the event of a hurricane. We would possibly be able to locate this on the property where our new Training and Communications Center is located and we believe, based on current construction costs, that it would cost in the neighborhood of $40 million – $50 million.

Staverman hearing centers

Q: What would happen to the old buildings that you currently occupy?
A: If we can move the Sheriff’s Offices out of the area, that would give us available real estate near the courthouse (which is mandatory) and the current jail to refurbish, expand, and connect to the current jail so it would all be one cohesive facility. Currently, we are occupying a jail built in 1986 (that replaced the 1953 jail) as well as four additional housing pods built in 1992, which bring our total beds in a piecemeal facility to 664. (Renovations were also done in 2010 and 2012 that added additional administrative space and the Community Work Release Center.) There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle as to how we must house inmates (gender/mental health/sentencing status etc.) and we really can’t use even our 664 beds efficiently. On top of that, we need to prepare for the growth of the county and the inevitable growth we will experience in our prison population. 

Q: What is the best way for our readers to contact you with any questions or suggestions about this article?

A: They can email me at sheriff@sjso.org or call me at (904) 824-8304.