District 4 office party a family affair
By S.I. ROSENBAUM
Published December 23, 2005
RUSKIN - The holiday party was in full swing.
Everyone was there. Deputies. Detectives. Community members. Convicts.
In some ways, the annual Sheriff's Office District 4 holiday party was different from yours. There were probably a lot more guys carrying guns, and more guys in county jail uniforms.
But mostly, deputies said, their party is just like any other holiday get-together: food, Santa, family.
"It's family, that's what this is all about," said Sgt. Joe Burt, as he dished up sweet-potato-and-pecans. "It's not just a law enforcement family but a community family as well."
District 4 is the only district in the Hillsborough County Sheriff's office that has a party like this.
It's the brainchild of Maj. Jerry York, who instituted it when he took charge of the district five years ago.
"I just felt like we needed to do this, just to spend time together and let the families get to know each other," he said.
York was out of uniform, greeting each deputy by name with a handshake or a hug. He kissed female deputies and deputies' wives on the cheek.
"This is important to me," he said.
Originally, the party was just for deputies and their families. But it gradually expanded to include community members who regularly worked with the deputies.
"It's important the community see this side of us," York said. "Out of uniform. Letting our hair down."
The mood at the party on Saturday was relaxed, as deputies wandered in and out of the crowded briefing room at district headquarters on State Road 674, and Santa (bearing a marked resemblance to Lt. Ronald Hartley) handed out stuffed animals to children.
Volunteers made up to-go bags for deputies who were on duty and set aside portions of food for the night shift.
The party is potluck. There was pecan pie, banana cream pie, cherry cheesecake and red velvet cake, not to mention six fried turkeys that Lt. Willie L. Parker prepared.
"It's not our policy to run out of food," he said.
Alongside deputies and business people, four inmates of the Orient Road Jail loaded their own plates with food. Assigned to District 4 on work-release, they had the task of preparing for the party and cleaning up afterward.
In between, they could eat their fill.
A posting to District 4 is a coveted work-release assignment, they said.
"They treat you like a human here," said Maurice Williams, serving out a year for grand theft.
"I wouldn't rather be anywhere else, except free," said Ron Gregg, convicted of petty theft.
All four said they felt like part of the mix at the party.
"Everybody's welcome," said Danny Rodriguez, sentenced for criminal mischief and leaving the scene of a crash. "Everybody's real friendly."
Deputies also said the holiday party exemplifies the atmosphere of District 4, which a recent internal Sheriff's Office survey showed was the happiest in the county.
"Maj. York is very family oriented," said new recruit Deputy Nicholas Cruz. "I wouldn't work anywhere else. It would take a fight, tooth and nail, to get me to leave."
Signal 14, the code for "information," is an occasional column about crime in east Hillsborough. S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at 661-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org
[Last modified December 22, 2005, 09:28:03]
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