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Hillsborough Sheriff hopeful Chad Chronister says MS-13 gang not much of a threat

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Chad Chronister says that in his interview with Rick Scott last week, the governor asked him why he should appoint him to succeed David Gee as the next Sheriff of Hillsborough County.

“I love what I do, I love my job, I love it as much as I did the first day that I started, I love making a difference and that’s what I want to do,” Chronister said Tuesday night in recounting what he told Scott while addressing the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee in Tampa.

“If I didn’t think I could make a difference … I’ll get out of the way and let somebody else do it,” he continued, saying he’s not a politician and doesn’t have an ego. “But I know I can make a difference. I know  I can continue making it a better agency for our employees our over 3,550 employees and growing and I know I can make it a better agency in this community.”

Chronister serves as a colonel in the Sheriff’s Department, an agency he’s been with since 1992. He reportedly had already been “anointed” by Gee a year ago to be his hand-picked successor, but that process was jump started when Gee stunned most observers and announced in May that he would be retiring at the end of this summer.

Scott will appoint an interim successor to serve until the next election in November 2018. The winner will serve out the last two years of Gee’s term.

Speaking before local Republicans, the 49-year-old Chronister said he is all about reducing crime because he said it was good for everybody, including the local economy.

“All the studies that I read, there’s a direct correlation between safety and business development creation and retention,” he said. “People aren’t going to want to go to Hillsborough County or stay here if they don’t feel safe. That’s our job.”

Chronister said that the agency is running short-handed currently, lacking some 227 deputy sheriffs, but does have deputy sheriffs (resource officers) in every high school, every middle school and 20 elementary schools in high-risk neighborhoods. “We don’t want to build more jails or more juvenile detention facilities, it’s because we want to keep the juveniles out of the juvenile justice system, to begin with. That’s our goal,” he said.

The York, Pennsylvania native has supervised the narcotics, warrants and intelligence sections as well as the Community Outreach Division. He was promoted to colonel last year and oversees the Department of Operational Support.

During a question-and-answer session, one woman asked Chronister about MS-13, perhaps the most well-known gang in the Western Hemisphere. “We have a problem with MS-13,” one woman told him. “They’re in Valrico. They’re in Plant City. I’ve seen the tags, when I see the tags, I call, ” she said.

“We’re very fortunate that it’s so loosely organized here in Hillsborough County. We’re doing to do our best to keep it that way,” he responded. “We’re lucky in Hillsborough County, we’ve got a lot of wannabe gang members,” he added.

The majority of Hillsborough Republicans asked him about guns. Kathy Brown said that if he’s appointed sheriff, he’s sworn to uphold the Constitution, but wanted to know what he would do if the “edict comes down from the federal government to take away your guns.”

“If it comes down from the federal government, my jurisdictional powers won’t overrule the federal government,” he responded. “I have to follow the law, and I know that’s not the answer you want to hear,” he said.

Brown walked away slowly.

It’s not known who else the governor has spoken with looking for a successor to Gee, who will step down in September.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at

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