Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Reality check for Sheriff Israel


OUR OPINION: Accomplishments overshadowed by perception of slip-shod ethics

There are some good things happening under Broward Sheriff Scott Israel’s administration, progressive measures that are making a positive difference on the streets. But it will all be for naught if he doesn’t begin to exercise better judgment in how he conducts his professional affairs. Right now, his judgment calls look careless, sloppy. They are adding an unnecessary public burden to a position that Broward residents have already seen compromised in the past.

In his short time in office, Mr. Israel has been in explanation mode, on the defensive. So far, there is nothing that suggests any kind of misuse of office, nothing that rises to former Sheriff Ken Jenne’s abuses for which he was convicted and served time in prison (though Mr. Jenne’s visit to BSO offices earlier this year cried out for an arms-length greeting instead of the open-armed welcome he got from Mr. Israel).

However, each time, Mr. Israel comes off as earnest, but unaware — of how appearances matter, of how the numbers have to add up, of how political friendships need to take a back seat to the integrity of the office.

So far, the sheriff has explained away a report by that he underreported his income from a private-security firm for which he worked before he became sheriff. He says he misread the financial disclosure form, writing $13,350 instead of $27,000. He told the Editorial Board that he filed an addendum and “there was no attempt to deceive.”

Then there’s the family vacation on the $35-million yacht of a friend who just happened to contribute $250,000 to Mr. Israel’s PAC. The trip occurred when he was sheriff-elect. Mr. Israel said government attorneys signed off on his paying $1,500 to take for him, his wife and teen triplets on a five-day sail to the Bahamas. Otherwise, Mr. Israel said, he would have to report it as a gift. Joe Blow and his wife, Jane, however, would have been charged $190,000 for the week.

The lawyers may have signed off on this one, but it sure looks like the Israels were “gifted” with one very sweet deal. Next time, the sheriff should use Travelocity like the rest of us do.

After eight months in office, some of the sheriff’s initiatives already are taking hold. For instance, in the cases of juvenile suspects who have committed minor crimes, Mr. Israel has made civil citations mandatory. This means that instead of being charged with a misdemeanor, a youth instead must take responsibility for his or her act and perform community service. There’s no arrest record to mar the chances of a misguided teen to straighten out, find employment, get into college or join the military. According to the BSO, there were 68 civil citations given out last year when the decision to do so was at deputies’ discretion. This year, already 200 have been handed out.

Obviously, teens who are suspected of much more serious crimes don’t qualify for civil citations. But the program is a prudent recognition that, in South Florida, the majority of kids who enter the juvenile-justice system for the first time, don’t return.

The BSO’s new VIPER program is an “intelligence-led” policy that targets violent habitual offenders to get them off the street.

Sheriff Israel says that public concern over some of his judgment calls — he had a rapper with a rap sheet perform at his swearing-in! — is much ado about nothing. That might be another lousy call on his part. He must understand — quickly — that the perception of an ethically run administration is just as important as the reality.

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