Talking with Fla. county Sheriff Grady Judd

Sheriff Judd is known for making bold statements and implementing what have been called “controversial” programs

By Carol McKinley

When Florida's Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd was 18-years-old, he got his first job in law enforcement as a dispatcher. He worked there ever since, and has held the rank of sheriff since 2004. That year, he was elected with 64 percent of the vote, and in 2008, facing only a write-in candidate, 99 percent of the people voted for him. Four years later, he is going to run again and tells Corrections1 he has opened his campaign account for 2012. 

Sheriff Judd often has brainstorming sessions with his deputies, which he calls "Breakfast with the Sheriff." Listening to his employees' suggestions, and backing those thoughts up with research has led to some changes in his jail. One of the biggest changes coming up is that Judd will soon be arming his deputies with tasers in the detention centers. "They are the subject matter experts so they know what they need," he says of his COs. "My heart is in the trenches with them."

Sheriff Judd is known for making bold statements and implementing what have been called "controversial" programs. For instance, beginning in August the Polk County Sheriffs' office started making inmates pay for their own underwear. There'll be more on that later.

The week Corrections1 spoke with Sheriff Judd was a bad one for his office. Just the day before our interview, he had attended the funeral of his Executive Officer of Business Affairs, Bea Reid, who had been beaten to death by her husband. The same morning Reid was murdered, in a separate crime just hours later, a man shot his wife to death, then walked into church and shot two pastors during the Sunday morning service. Sheriff Judd opened our talk with some words about the emotionally demanding job of law enforcement.

C1: What are your thoughts on law enforcement officers who have to move on a dime even in the worst of times?

Judd: During the worst of times, we have to be at our very best. Think of the very worst day you've had in your life, who came to help? Law enforcement officers. Even when things are tough and we are personally hurting, it's our job to keep it together.

C1: Tell us about Bea Reid.

Judd: Bea was truly a miracle maker for us. Our number three person. She had a positive way of giving bad news... literally telling people they could go to hell and enjoy the trip. When I heard her husband had beaten her with a baseball bat, I was numb. She had not said a word to us about problems at home, and there were no obvious signs of domestic abuse. She belonged to a group of women called "The Magpies." They had that name for a reason, and she never said a word to any of 'em. We are all still recovering.

C1: It's obvious you respect your staff. Did your days as a dispatcher affect the way you lead?

Judd: I came up through the ranks. We didn't have a 911 center back when I was working as a disptacher in 1972. We still had pay phones and rotary phones and all of that. I think it's the only place I could start. I would have started off as the sheriff if they would have let me.

C1: How did you come to the decision to have your inmates buy their own underwear?

Judd: We're dealing with very difficult economic times here. My promise is that I don't care how tough this economy gets, I'll never lay you off. I looked at my staff and I said "Folks we've got to save more money." One of our supply supervisors said "Well, we're buying underwear for the inmates." And I said "How much money does it cost?" and he said "Forty-five thousand dollars a year." And I said..."That's somebody's job!" Someone said "Boss, are you sure you want to do that?" I said "I'm not only sure I'm going to do that, I'm looking forward to it. If they don't like it, they can let the breeze blow one leg and down the other.

C1: People say inmates can't afford new underwear.

Judd: If we want new underwear, we go down to the store and buy it!

C1: What was the inmates' response?

Judd: They're used to me aggravating them. The commissary has underwear. All they have to do is go down there and buy it.

C1: People have compared you to (Maricopa County) Sheriff Joe Arpaio. What do you think about that?

Judd: Sheriff Arpaio will get out further on a limb than I will. But I think he's instituted a lot of good ideas. I took out all of the basketball goals out of the county jail.

C1: Why did you do that?

Judd: Because you don't need to be playing basketball. If you want to play basketball, behave and stay out of jail. You've got men and women who ride by every day paying their taxes for that jail. I just don't think they want to see people who are adding nothing to society playing basketball. There's no lifting weights. They can get exercise by doing jumping jacks and push-ups or run in a tight circle.

C1: Can they watch television?

Judd: I don't let them watch any news. It's a status thing for them to look at their buddies on TV being strutted in court before the cameras, and I don't want them to see that.

C1: What can they watch?

Judd: They watch what I call "healthy television." We allow them to watch videos on how to recover from drug or alcohol abuse and we have videos on how to pay your child support. If they behave themselves during the week, we have free time in evenings and on the weekend, we have a few hours before lights out to watch G-rated programs. They can't watch any programs showing violence. They can watch sports if they behave.

C1: How would you refer to the way you govern your jail? Would you call it "tough love?"

Judd: "Tough love" would be appropriate. They're in jail. It's not like they're staying at the Hilton. We have G.E.D. programs and faith-based dorms which don't cost the taxpayer one cent. We make sure that they have a healthy, clean, safe environment, and we make sure they have a, not necessarily delicious, but, nutritious meal. We don't feed them peanut butter and jelly because it's more expensive than meat. I had a momma tell me one time, "Well, my baby likes peanut butter and jelly." I said "Well, m'aam, if your baby will behave and stay out of jail, you can feed him all the peanut butter and jelly he wants to eat!"

C1: On our Facebook page, we had one person ask ‘Have you've ever thought about going to the state prison level?'

Judd: I think it would be interesting to run a state prison system and you never say never, but I enjoy being the sheriff of Polk County. My roots are working on the line and I'll never forget that. I'm just a hard-working cop.

C1: You're known for being outspoken and you have been criticized for some of your comments. Do you care that you raise eyebrows for the controversial things you say?

Judd: It's only controversial for the people who don't understand ‘real America.' Those are the hard-working, God-fearing people who built this country who understand what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong. The thing we desperately need in every level of government today is leadership. I make decisions every day that somebody doesn't agree with. I make decisions even I myself don't agree with!

But we make decisions to consider what's in the best interest to make people safe and secure and to keep them from harm. Quite frankly, the people who worry about being politically correct worry about running over everybody's toes. I run over those toes every day. And it's the criminals and the thugs' toes. And if you don't want me running over your toes, stay out of the way!

Some people come up to me and say, 'You know, Sheriff, I don't agree with you on this issue, but I admire you for taking a stand.' I provide a breath of fresh air for a bunch of politically correct sissies in government.

C1: People are wondering if you have any openings for a CO?

Judd: We absolutely do. We would love to have them. Go on our website and apply. We have fair pay and great benefits.

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