Loss of Harrison still felt

Published May 3, 2007

DADE CITY - Once a year, these six are honored for their sacrifice:

Constable Arthur "Fleece" Crenshaw. Prohibition Agent John Waters. Pasco sheriff's Deputy William "Henry" Nix O'Berry. Deputy Herbert "Bert" McCabe. Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James "Brad" Crooks.

And Pasco sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison.

It is the loss of Harrison, killed in the line of duty in 2003, that was particularly felt at Tuesday night's annual law enforcement officers memorial. Last week, his killer was sentenced to life in prison.

Harrison was a pioneer, rising from segregation to become the highest-ranking African-American in agency history.

Pasco finds it easy to honor such a man.

But to replace him?

There's nothing easy about that.

* * *

Simply put, there will never be another Bo.

"He'd have to be everything Bo Harrison was, " said Pasco Sheriff Bob White, 56. "He'd have to be a mentor, he'd have to be a soldier, he'd have to be a policeman, he'd have to be a father, he'd have to be a coach.

"How do you cover all that ground?"

Harrison grew up in a segregated Dade City. After serving in Vietnam he returned home to help integrate the Sheriff's Office in 1977.

Back then, white citizens had problems with a black deputy, and black citizens had problems with an overwhelmingly white agency.

Which is why Harrison's role, not just his rank, was so important after 31 years on the force.

"The mediator, " said retired deputy and childhood friend Delia Carter, 56.

"He was the link between law enforcement and the black community."

Harrison, 57, did it without drawing his weapon, or wearing a bulletproof vest. He did it with powers of persuasion that are still legendary today.

Detective Gregory Hinnant, 51, now the agency's most senior African-American with 12 years on the force, remembers his old patrol commander at work.

"The guy had a God-given gift, " Hinnant said, "a knack for relating to people."

* * *

Harrison loved the Sheriff's Office. And he expected much of it. When he was promoted to lieutenant in 1993, he didn't hold back.

"It's been a long time coming, " he told the St. Petersburg Times.

So was the addition of more black deputies.

"He was disappointed with the number of blacks, and he tried to recruit blacks, " Carter said, "and he wanted to see more blacks in more positions - positions other than patrol."

Former Sheriff Lee Cannon made Harrison his minority recruiter. It was a role that frustrated Harrison.

"He said a lot of guys didn't want to come down here because there's no minorities in the area, " said Hinnant.

The 2005 U.S. Census estimate puts Pasco's black population at 3.4 percent. Just 2 percent - nine deputies - of the agency's 456 deputies are black. About 5 percent of the 278 detention deputies - 15 deputies - are black. There are no African-American commanders - not even sergeants.

Diversity "is a no-brainer, " White said, but he also said his agency can't compete for minority officers.

"You have to understand that I am a small fish in a big pond competing for minorities, " the sheriff said.

"They can go to Hillsborough and Pinellas and make more."

White said he was counting on one man, a deputy nearing retirement, to help change that.

But one night nearly four years ago, someone fired an assault rifle at Lt. Harrison as he sat, helplessly, in his patrol cruiser.

"He was gonna be my recruiter, " the sheriff said. "My right-hand bridge-builder."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.