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Sheriff's Office 'super cop' retires

"Policing is one of the most rewarding jobs,'' says the lieutenant, known for his fairness and street savvy.

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2001


"Policing is one of the most rewarding jobs," says the lieutenant, known for his fairness and street savvy.

CITRUS PARK -- Of all the tickets Lt. Robert Goding has handed out in his long career with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, some stand out more than others.

There was the time a local judge tried to talk his way out of a citation for hauling kumquats in a trailer with no license tag. That was in 1967, not long after Goding was sworn in.

The judge didn't have a chance.

As Goding recalls, the man identified himself as a jurist and asked him, "What if I don't sign the citation?"

Goding, who has earned a rock-solid reputation for fairness, was unimpressed. "I told the judge, "You're not above the law or below the law. I'd have to take you in.' I just felt he was testing me."

The attitude was vintage Goding, who refused to divulge the judge's name. So was the kicker: After he wrote the ticket, Goding let the judge drop off the kumquats at the fruit-packing plant, he said.

After 33 years with the department, this former high school basketball star with a deep, gravely voice is calling it quits.

"Policing is one of the most rewarding jobs people can have," said Goding, 64. "I really feel life's been good to me."

Goding spent the last part of his career supervising patrol officers at the District 3 office in Citrus Park.

Goding is a piece of law enforcement history, a throwback to a time when police officers walked their beats alone, without walkie-talkies. Goding remembers the extension number on the call box in Ybor City: 338.

"You had to talk people out of a lot of things," said Goding's colleague, District 3 Capt. Roger Dixon. "Fortunately, Bob had the size."

Goding stands 6-5.

He joined the Sheriff's Office at a time when officers got closer to the citizens in a county that was overwhelmingly rural. One of his first calls involved removing a herd of cows from the intersection of Livingston and Bearss avenues.

Goding spent four years with the Tampa Police Department before joing the Sheriff's Office. After his stint in Tampa, he relished the chance to drive the Sheriff's Office's air-conditioned cars. "I thought I was in hog heaven," he said.

Colleagues credit Goding for his decency, patience, common sense and ability to supervise. Subordinates praise him for backing his officers whenever possible. They trusted his coolness under pressure.

"He's a hummer," said Deputy Chuck Haber, who learned the ropes under Goding. "There's no panic, no screaming. In this business, that's the way you have to be. By doing it that way, you get respect from people. He was one of the best people I ever worked for."

Goding grew up in Tampa and lives in Northdale. He has friends and family in the area, including his wife and daughter. He is separated from his wife after 40 years of marriage.

His father, a foreman with the city Water Department, and mother worked extra jobs so they could send him and his sister to Catholic schools. At Jesuit High School, Goding's basketball prowess prompted one writer to dub the school "Bob Goding High." He was an all-state high school player who was one of the first to score 1,000 points in his career.

"My folks were not rich," Goding said. "In fact, I would say we were more on the poor side. I only had one bicycle. I called that bike Betsy. I treated that bike as good as I could because I knew I wasn't going to get another one."

As an officer, every call was important, whether the person making it was rich or poor.

Goding recalled meeting a homeless man and his two sons on Franklin Street. With the $1.50 in his pocket, Goding bought the children tennis shoes and then found a place for them to stay, he said. Several months later, the man had found work in the shipyard and came back to thank him.

"He wanted to pay me back and I said, "No, don't worry about it,' " Goding said. "If I remember, he bought me a cup of coffee and we just talked."

Dixon, a 30-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, described Goding as "just one of the most honest, down-to-earth people I've come across."

"If Bob tells you something," Dixon said, "you can take it to the bank."

Goding's coping skills kept him out of trouble and, in at least one glaring case, may have saved his life.

As a deputy, Goding responded to a call about a woman firing shots in Forest Hills. When he arrived at her house alone, she confronted him with a gun.

"I opened my jacket to make sure she knew I'm a deputy," Goding said. "She told me, "I don't like anybody, and I'm going to kill you.' I told her, "No, you don't want to do that. I have a baby.'

"Things run through your mind," he said. "Is this going to hurt? Is this your last day on earth? She had me at bay for at least 10 minutes. She was zeroed right at my chest."

Suddenly, Goding cried, "Watch out, he's going to get you!" Startled, the woman turned. Using his athletic agility, he took position behind a corner of the house. With his gun drawn, Goding said he finally was able to radio for help and take her in.

As Goding took on more responsibility, the promotions followed: sergeant in 1974 and lieutenant in 1983. He handled large operations and countless daily situations. He taught street smarts to hundreds of officers in the process.

"I'm very proud of him," said Kim Sandlin, a community resource officer in the Sheriff's District 1 office near the University of South Florida. "I consider him a super cop . . . a good father and a good friend."

In 33 years, Goding's internal affairs file consists of one complaint shown to be unfounded. In 1979, he was named the Tampa Board of Realtors "Officer of the Year," partly for recovering $50,000 from a jewelry heist.

That he never rose above lieutenant doesn't bother him. "I don't have an answer," he said. "Competition is keen."

Now, retirement means an opportunity to fish, visit the mountains and sleep a little later in the morning.

He also will have extra time to play with his 3-year-old granddaughter, Brittany Sandlin, he said. "Talk about something that will tire you out."

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