Sheriff Grady Judd: “Criminal Justice is a Great Thing. It Keeps Us All Safe.”
by James Coulter
Over the last two years, Polk County has grown by 58 thousand people, roughly the population of Winter Haven and Dundee, or half the population of Lakeland. This year, it’s expected to draw in 25 to 35 thousand new people.
Sheriff Grady Judd has one message to people moving to the county from other states: Polk County takes crime seriously. If you commit a crime, you will be arrested and thrown in jail.
Many new residents are moving from states like New York that have laxer laws. For example, New York has a “no bail jail” policy for most criminal offenses except violent crimes. If a person is arrested, they are taken to jail where they are processed and prepared for court but eventually released. Sheriff Judd claimed crime skyrocketed because of that policy.
He brought up an anecdote concerning a disturbance at a gated community. While he and his deputies were speaking to the person who reported it, another man ran up, pushed aside a deputy, and punched the person. The officers quickly “introduced [the man] to the ground” and threw him into the police car.
The man asked where he was being taken to. Sheriff Judd replied that they were taking him to the county jail. The man replied he was from New York City, where they are given a citation and asked to show up for court later.
“I want you to look around the jail and ask yourself if you are in New York City,” Judd said. “This is not New York City. You do not…push the cops, hit someone in my presence, and not go to jail. If you are allowed to do that, then you do. That is what we are seeing around the country [with these lax laws].”
Sheriff Judd shared this experience during an update he provided at a luncheon hosted by the Northeast Polk Chamber of Commerce. The chamber luncheon was held at Tom Fellows Community & Event Center in Davenport with several hundred people in attendance.
During the luncheon, Sheriff Judd provided an update on the Polk County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO). He assured guests that he and the PCSO take criminal justice seriously. Polk County is currently experiencing a 50-year low in violent crime, and he expects crime to remain low under him.
“Our job is to serve you,” Sheriff Judd said. “If you are not safe, if you do not feel safe, communities can’t thrive.”
Sheriff Judd mentioned how his department was implementing new technology to help them better protect the community. One such example of new technology was Live911, software which allows deputies to hear the details on emergency calls and use geofencing technology to better track the caller’s location.
Live911 software allows first responders and deputies to cut down on response time to emergency calls. The PCSO had beta-tested the software in the county for 30 days. During that time, they were able to save two lives, Sheriff Judd said. Today, Live911 has been implemented countywide.
Sheriff Judd was also one of many law enforcement officers who were commissioned by the Florida Speaker of the House to serve on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. Their pejorative was to investigate the mass shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and use the data collected to implement policies that state schools can utilize to prevent potential mass shootings.
During their investigation, Sheriff Judd discovered there was a “total failure” within the system of Boward County to prevent that mass shooting. Even now that rules have been changed and implemented throughout the state to prevent future tragedies, Boward County was the very last county to come into compliance with these changes.
Perhaps the most shocking revelation was with the mass shooter himself. Investigating his record revealed that the shooter was an “evil being” whose threat had been ignored by the entire system. Despite receiving mental health counseling his entire life and being moved around from school to school, at no point was law enforcement ever inquired or informed about his situation. Sheriff Judd claimed it was because the people involved did not want “to criminalize him and ruin his life.”
“There is a false narrative going around that the criminal justice system is a bad thing,” Sheriff Judd said. “The criminal justice is a great thing. It keeps us all safe…Had they introduced him to the criminal justice system…because he was committing crimes along the way, instead of hiding him from the criminal justice system, we could have mandated services and communications of services and maybe have prevented that horrible event from happening that day.”
Conversely, Sheriff Judd claims the PCSO takes these potential scenarios seriously. He wants “layers and layers” set up to ensure that potential mass shooters get nowhere near the school building and the children within it. If for some reason a shooter were to breech these defenses and protections, Sheriff Judd has only one objective.
“If someone shows up at school, I want you to shoot them,” he said. “I want you to shoot them alive. I want you to shoot them so much you can read the New York Times through them.”
Moreover, he wants to proactively weed out troubled students who show all the warning signs of potentially becoming school shooters. He feels mental health has been the biggest oversight since mental health hospitals shut down decades ago. While there are no longer any mental health facilities in Florida, he claims his county jail is the largest mental health facility in the area because of the criminals they arrest.
He shared the anecdote of one troubled student. Not only did he check off boxes of warning signs, but he also added them, Sheriff Judd said. Throughout the school year, PSCO would escort him to school, pat him down, and ensure he received proper mental health counseling. By the end of the year, the student, who had previously been a loner, was eating lunch with his colleagues and laughing with them.
“We did the things that are necessary and legal,” Sheriff Judd said. “We believe in our heart of hearts that we turned that child around. But we won’t give up, and we won’t close our eyes, and we have got to pay attention.”