Sheriff Knight decides not to seek re-election

He first took office in January 2009

Sheriff Tom Knight. Contributed photo by Barbara Banks

Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight announced on June 6 that he would not be seeking re-election.

His current term ends in January 2021, a news release points out.

The 10th sheriff of the county, Knight won his first term in 2008 and was sworn into office in January 2009.

“He immediately began transforming the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office into a model of progressive law enforcement,” the release points out. “During his first 100 days in office, Knight convened subject-matter experts as well as internal and external stakeholders to produce the agency’s first strategic plan,” in an effort to tackle the most difficult issues of the time, “including rising crime rates and decreasing resources during the economic crisis,” the release adds.

Knight’s plan included a major shift in crime fighting philosophy to incorporate community-based policing models of the 1980s and ’90s, “as well as intelligence-led policing, or ILP, which focuses strongly on prolific offenders,” the release notes. “Under Knight’s leadership, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office became one of the first agencies in the nation to adopt the ILP model. Those efforts, along with several other strategies and programs Knight initiated, have led to a reduction of nearly 52% in Part 1 Offenses throughout Sarasota County since 2009, the release points out.

Part 1 offenses are those the FBI ranks as the most serious.

“Sheriff Knight’s hallmark is the ability and willingness to look differently at problems and develop unconventional solutions,” the release continues. For example, recognizing that “a significant percentage of repeat jail inmates are in custody primarily because of drug and mental health problems,” in 2009, Knight and his command staff convened meetings with representatives of the local faith community and the Salvation Army to create the first jail-based addiction recovery pods in the Southeastern United States, the release notes.

“Knight is also credited with reducing metal thefts and all but wiping out local opioid ‘pill mills’” by collaborating with county commissioners to pass specific ordinances to disrupt businesses that created vital links within criminal organizations, the release says. “The pill mill ordinance became a model for the state of Florida and inspired the passing of similar legislation in 2018,” which authorized the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to reduce manufacturing quotas for controlled substances, the release adds.

The 2018 annual report for the Sheriff’s Office includes these statistics related to the opioid epidemic. Image courtesy Sheriff’s Office

Additionally, Knight is proud of changes within the agency since he took office in 2009, the release points out. Knight “has challenged the status quo of a traditionally male-dominated workforce to ensure equal opportunity for advancement and the promotion of female supervisors,” the release says. “He implemented several significant policy changes and created an attractive recruitment process that has helped with retention,” making the Sheriff’s Office one of the most highly competitive agencies in the state of Florida, the release adds.

“Thanks to advanced training, equipment and compensation, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has not suffered from employee attrition like many other law enforcement agencies throughout the state and across the country,” the release says.

A native of Pennsylvania, Knight is the son of a World War II Purple Heart recipient and a mother who worked in the Sarasota County School District, the release notes. After spending most of his childhood in Venice, it continues, he began his law enforcement career in 1987, with the Sarasota Police Department. Less than two years later, he joined the Florida Highway Patrol. He spent the next 20 years with that agency, serving in five troops, from Miami to Tallahassee, while working his way to the position of major, the release notes.

He and his wife, Tracy, have two adult daughters, Emily and Elizabeth.