Eliseo Santana, Pinellas County Sheriff

Posted at 11:22 AM, Oct 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-07 11:42:14-04

In an effort to help you make informed decisions during the General Election, ABC Action News has reached out to dozens of candidates running for office. The following statements have been submitted to ABC Action News by the candidate. Every candidate was given the same set of questions. These are their responses in his/her own words.

Name: Eliseo Santana
Party: Democrat
Office: Pinellas County Sheriff

In addition to my service in the United States Army, I worked for 31 years implementing technology and modernizing our Sheriff’s Office in Pinellas County.

Why should voters vote for you?

Our Sheriff’s Office is badly in need of new leadership – we need to change the culture of policing in our communities. Under the current Sheriff, victims are ignored and encouraged not to pursue justice, our domestic police force has been militarized and used as an occupying force in our neighborhoods, and common-sense policies like body cameras are rejected.

I’m running so we can create a Sheriff’s Office we can all be proud of. I’ll always stand with victims and our deputies will go back to being public servants. I’ll also require de-escalation techniques and implement mandatory body cameras on officers to reduce violence and build trust in the communities we serve.

If elected, what are your top priorities?

First, I will require all officers to wear body cameras that automatically download to an offsite server. This will ensure officers are protected from false accusations, victims will have the evidence they need to receive justice, and communities will be able to trust our deputies again.

Second, I’ll end the militarization of our domestic police force. The current Sheriff has equipped our deputies with the weapons and tactics of foreign wars – with terrible but predictable results.

Third, I’ll ensure that our deputies are public servants – not the private army of Bob Gualtieri. He’s enlisted them to work for President Trump by tearing immigrant families apart, trampling on the first amendment, and even threatening local businesses who speak out against police misconduct.

What are three key messages of your campaign?

We can build a Sheriff’s Office we can all be proud of by changing the culture of policing in our county.

Victims deserve a Sheriff who will take crimes like rape, assault, and domestic violence seriously instead of using bureaucratic tricks to clear cases without solving the actual crimes committed.

Our Sheriff needs to treat the communities we serve with respect and compassion. I’ve seen the racism and hate myself as the first Hispanic employee in the Sheriff’s Office – I know what it will take to root out that kind of prejudice because I’ve lived through it.

What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

My work in the Sheriff’s Office revolved around technology and modernization - I was the person who pushed to equip our patrol cars with cameras and eventually carried that plan through to completion.

That’s why it’s so concerning to me that our Sheriff has refused for years to equip officers with body cameras. This is a simple, proven policy that will protect everyone involved and restore trust in our communities.

Now that we’re in an election year, the incumbent has finally signaled he’ll “consider” body cameras. I have no confidence that this Sheriff will follow through because I proposed body cameras for years at the Sheriff’s Office – it’s an election year trick that voters are to smart to fall for.

As it relates to the role you are seeking, how has that governmental body handled the Covid-19 pandemic? What would you do differently/the same in handling both the public health risk and the economic recovery?

The first job of the Sheriff is to protect the public. That’s why I was so shocked that our Sheriff refused to enforce simple policies to reduce the spread of Covid – making the impact on our families and businesses much worse than it needed to be.

Not only did he refuse to protect the public, he set a poor example by ignoring local regulations to attend a political event with President Trump. His fear in disappointing President Trump was stronger than his concern for our communities – and that’s shameful.

As our Sheriff, I would start by setting the right example and require our officers to wear masks during all interactions with the public. I would also enforce local regulations to stop the spread of this
pandemic. Finally, I would instruct our personnel to make masks available to the citizens they interact with every day to help slow the spread.

In the role you are seeking, what will you do to address issues of racism and inequality?

Police agencies around the country have implemented common sense reforms to end racial disparities, reduce violence, and promote public safety. It’s time for Pinellas County to join them.

I would require body cameras, de-escalation training, and enhanced training for our deputies. I would also end the over-policing of low-level misdemeanors so that our deputies can focus on violent crime and crimes against our most vulnerable neighbors.

What motivates you to run for public office?

On my first day in the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, my superior told me that “we don’t’ want you here, you don’t fit”. I was passed over for promotions in favor of less qualified colleagues and given unfair reviews simply because the administration had an unfavorable view of young Hispanic men.

We’ve come a long way since then, but our communities still see the racism and inequality institutionalized in our police force. I know we can do better and I’m running for Sheriff so that we can change the culture of policing in Pinellas County.