In his last news conference as Broward’s top cop, Sheriff Al Lamberti praised his agency’s efforts to reduce hate crimes in the county — a finding reflected in the 2011 Hate Crimes in Florida report issued by the state attorney general’s office this week.
But Lamberti, one of the most visible Republican elected officials in Broward, declined to say if he would ever run for office again, or to divulge many details about his plans once he steps down next week.
“Effective Tuesday, I’m going to be back where I was when I started: a citizen of Broward County,’’ said Lamberti, who was first elected sheriff in 2008 but lost to Democratic challenger Scott Israel by about 45,000 votes in November’s general election.
“I sacrificed ... a lot of time with my wife and my son,’’ he said. “So, I’m looking forward to catching up on lost time.’’
A 35-year veteran of the Broward Sheriff’s Office who began his law enforcement career working in the county jail, Lamberti rose through the ranks to be appointed sheriff by then-Gov. Charlie Crist in September 2007.
Broward voters elected Lamberti for an additional four years in 2008, choosing him over Israel, who is a former Fort Lauderdale police officer and North Bay Village police chief.
Lamberti took office at a time when the agency was in desperate need of stability after former Sheriff Ken Jenne went to prison on charges of fraud and tax evasion.
“I think we steadied the ship and got it going in the right direction,’’ Lamberti said, “and we accomplished a lot.’’
During Lamberti’s tenure, the sheriff took on Broward’s rampant pill mills and pushed to have lawmakers make attacking the homeless a hate crime — an accomplishment for which Lamberti expressed particular pride.
Flanked by local representatives of organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Pride Center and the Broward Coalition for the Homeless, Lamberti spoke Friday of the potent partnerships his agency forged with these groups and elected officials such as former Florida Rep. Ari Porth — who also was in attendance — to enact legislation in 2010 that made attacking the homeless a hate crime.
Lamberti said one of the first things he did as sheriff was to create a Hate Crimes Task Force, in response to annual state reports that found Broward led all Florida counties in hate crimes for several years.
“It has worked wonders,’’ Lamberti said of the task force, which is led by Capt. Richard Wierzbicki, who will be leaving the agency as well.
Ron Gunzburger, who has been named general counsel and senior advisor to the sheriff-elect, said BSO will continue to make it a priority to fight hate crimes.
“Sheriff Israel intends to keep the task force,’’ Gunzburger wrote in an email. “The sheriff sees hate crimes as serious incidents requiring prompt arrests and appropriate prosecutions.’’
Holding copies of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s latest hate crimes report, and another issued by the National Coalition for the Homeless citing Broward as a national leader in preventing hate crimes against the homeless, Lamberti presented them as evidence of the task force’s effectiveness.
“That’s what’s so important about these reports,’’ he said. “They say it. It’s not just me saying it. … They’re validating what I’m saying. But when it comes from me, sometimes it’s taken with a grain of salt that I’m doing it for a political reason.’’
The 2011 Hate Crimes in Florida Report ranked Broward County as fifth in the state for total hate crime offenses reported that year.
In Florida, hate crimes are those in which the perpetrator intentionally selects a victim or property based on race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, advanced age or other factors.
Florida’s Hate Crimes Statute reclassifies such criminal offenses for more severe punishment. However, because motivation is the key factor in determining whether an act is a hate crime, it is often up to the investigating law enforcement officer or agency to determine whether a particular act is a hate crime and will be reported as such to the state.
What’s more, the latest report from the attorney general’s office does not include hate crimes committed against the homeless because homeless status is not indicated in criminal reports and is not required to be collected by police.
Still, criminal justice experts say hate crimes statutes and aggressive enforcement do help reduce the instances of those crimes.
Joe Pollini, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, said he saw similar efforts targeting domestic violence and hate crimes produce positive results during more than 30 years as a New York City police officer.
“Once you bring those things to light and bring it to the public’s knowledge and you aggressively pursue it,’’ he said, “there’s no question that it diminishes the amount of times that it will happen.’’