OKEECHOBEE — Normally when we hear the name Jesse James, we think of outlaws, but Jesse James Simmons does not have law breaking on his mind. He is more interested in law enforcement and has thrown his hat in the ring as a candidate for sheriff of Okeechobee County.
Born and raised in Martin County, Mr. Simmons is 53, was divorced in 1997 and is the single father of two sons, who are now 23 and 30. As he was growing up, his parents were actively involved in charity work with organizations such as the Port Salerno Youth Organizations, where his father and uncles sat on the board. He and his family were actively involved in putting on the Port Salerno Shark
Tournament event to benefit the Port Salerno Youth Organization.
Mr. Simmons was a volunteer firefighter and involved with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) for approximately seven years, during which he assisted with investigating illicit drug sales and lewd and lascivious acts on Martin County beaches. Through these experiences he developed a deep passion for the law enforcement profession. However, his former wife was not supportive of his desire to become a full-time deputy sheriff.
Consequently, he started his own businesses, one in drywall and the other in landscape maintenance, and for the past 19 years, he has been employed in the concrete industry.
He has lived in Okeechobee County for about 14 years. Asked why he wants to run for sheriff, he replied, “My motivation includes my passions for law enforcement and my sincere concerns about the safety and welfare of all our residents. Based upon citizens’ complaints of the inadequate services our current sheriff’s deputies have provided to them, one must wonder if the deputies’ apathetic attitudes are evidence of inferior training, a personal indifference, or a matter of poor leadership.”
Mr. Simmons went on to claim that deputies have responded to automobile burglaries that are felonies and classified such offenses as trespasses, which are misdemeanors. In addition, he said deputies have responded to criminal mischief offenses upon private, residential and commercial properties with damages in excess of $1,000, and the victims were told they needed to develop some investigative leads for the deputies.
“This inferior level of law enforcement is disgraceful, indicative of incompetence and indifference in professional leadership,” he claimed. “As your sheriff, I will commit to correcting these inferior conditions and I will provide the residents of Okeechobee County with a superior law enforcement program.”
If elected, Mr. Simmons would like to have the OCSO go through the process to become an accredited agency. He intends to create a citizens’ action group comprising homeowners association managers and members of the business community. He says he’d have it meet monthly to discuss trends in criminal activity and share ideas for protecting the safety and welfare of the residents of Okeechobee.
He plans to develop a Community Oriented Policing unit. Each COP team would be composed of five deputies and a supervisor. The COP objectives would be to foster positive, trustworthy and respectful relationships with the residents of Okeechobee County. The COP approach would force the deputies to get out of their patrol vehicles and casually interact with the residents when on bicycle patrols or walking the retail shopping strip plazas. The COP approach would allow the residents to establish confidence in the deputies and give the OCSO deputies opportunities for collecting valuable investigative leads and criminal intelligence. The COP initiatives would provide avenues for success, Mr. Simmons explained.
Additionally, he intends to create Problem Oriented Policing (POP) units whose initiatives would be to focus on eliminating “hot spots,” high-crime areas. Once the conditions of a hot spot are eliminated, the area would be reassigned to a COP unit for order maintenance.
“We’re going to concentrate on being proactive. Our deputies have historically applied a reactive approach to performing enforcement services. Instead of waiting to be dispatched to a citizen’s complaint, our deputies will be encouraged and expected to perform self-initiated enforcement activities and investigations,” he said.
He would like to see the OCSO become more caring and involved in the lives of the citizens of Okeechobee. “When Domino’s donates 20 or 30 pizzas to the sheriff’s department in times like this, it would be good to think of community relations and the citizens of Okeechobee. Take those pizzas and the manager of Domino’s out into the needy neighborhoods of the community and pass them out to the needy kids and families that your front line officers are aware of. Those are things I would want them to do. Those officers are still working, collecting a paycheck when a lot of people are not. You never know if that pizza or those slices of pizza that you gave out to someone’s kids or to a family could possibly prevent a domestic violence event from occurring because maybe they would have been arguing over food, money and feeding the kids later that night,” he said.
“There are unique problems in every area of the county,” he went on. “The law enforcement programs that I intend to implement if I am elected as sheriff have had a very high success rate in other counties. There’s an old saying, ‘A great leader never sets out to be a leader. They set out to make a difference.’ It is never about the role; it is about the goals.”
“I’m running for sheriff to restore integrity, hope and faith to the good citizens of Okeechobee County. You deserve a sheriff who’ll make arrests and convict criminals. You deserve a sheriff who’ll show compassion to crime victims. You deserve a sheriff who’ll lead with honor to lower our county’s rising crime rate,” he said.