NAPLES — Wearing his class-A dress uniform, and with two predecessors looking on, longtime Collier County lawman and public servant Kevin Rambosk was sworn in Tuesday morning as the seventh sheriff in the county’s nearly 86-year history.
Clocking in at just under a half hour, the 11 a.m. ceremony was short and to the point.
“This is an historic moment for Collier County,” Collier Commissioner Donna Fiala said. “We’ve got one great sheriff leaving and one great sheriff coming in. You couldn’t ask for anything else.”
About 400 Collier residents, leaders and law enforcement officers crowded onto the Golden Gate High School football field prior to the ceremony. Spectators sat in white folding chairs facing a small raised platform set up near the end zone. Green balloons tied to a soccer goal whipped around in a stiff breeze.
To the right of the stage a gray sea of uniformed Collier County sheriff’s deputies stood at attention. Seated to the left were outgoing Sheriff Don Hunter, former Sheriff Aubrey Rogers, and Rambosk’s family.
With his right hand raised, and the American flag snapping in the background, Rambosk, 54, swore to uphold both the U.S. and Florida constitutions. Collier County Judge Hugh Hayes conducted the ceremony, and was the first to shake the new sheriff’s hand.
Rambosk, in turn, swore in the agency members in attendance.
“And since we’re here at Golden Gate High School, go Titans!” Rambosk said, before addressing the crowd.
Rambosk said that the great quality of life in Collier County comes not from the warm, sunny weather, but from the commitment of dedicated law enforcement and corrections officers.
The number of annual traffic fatalities in the county is plummeting downward, as is the crime rate, which is at its lowest point since 1971 when the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began keeping statistics. The total number of violent crimes and property crimes reported annually has dropped in Collier County every year since 1996.
“There will be challenges in the coming years,” said Rambosk, who takes over during what he has called “the single most significant economic downturn” since he started in law enforcement in the late 1970s.
Sticking to campaign themes of community, safety and service, Rambosk promised to form neighborhood safety teams and traffic safety teams, to utilize and implement red-light running and e-law enforcement technologies, and to form a Southwest Florida regional crime partnership with other area agencies.
“We’re going to challenge ourselves to become more efficient with the resources that we’ve got,” he said. “Working together we can keep Collier County safe.”
Rambosk was joined on stage by Hunter, 57, who retires after 20 years at the agency’s helm, and Rogers, 82, who served as sheriff for 13 years. Hunter passed to Rambosk a tie tack that he said was originally purchased by the county’s second sheriff, Louis Thorp, and then passed to Rogers and Hunter.
“I think the office of sheriff is a very important public office,” Hunter said after the ceremony when asked about the tie tack. “It is a symbol of that long history of the office of sheriff since July 1923 that can be reflected upon.”
Hunter also passed to Rambosk the star he wore as sheriff for 20 years, a tradition he is hoping to start.
“Apparently it isn’t any good to me,” Hunter told the crowd. “I couldn’t even get into the office this morning.”
At the end of the ceremony, Rambosk signed in as sheriff for the first time over the radio. “10-86, Alpha-1,” he said.
“The tears were coming down,” said Rambosk’s mother, Muriel Rambosk, 78, as she left the ceremony with her husband Jim, 80.
Ed Frick, 80, who has lived in Golden Gate Estates for nine years, was one of the first people in a seat on Tuesday morning. He said he volunteered to work on Rambosk’s transition team.
“I got an invitation in the mail,” Frick said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to miss this. This is a big thing for the county.’”
Conspicuously missing from the ceremony was the former head of the Sheriff’s Office Public Affairs Bureau, Brigid O’Malley, who helped lead Rambosk’s campaign to a landslide victory in August. Citing rumors by “political enemies” that “irreparably harmed” her name, O’Malley, 43, resigned in December, not in good standing, while the agency investigated allegations of misconduct.
Attempts to reach O’Malley for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
After the pomp and circumstance had concluded, Rambosk and Hunter retreated to a clubhouse near the field where they signed documents, and Rambosk took charge of all the agency’s assets and inventory, including prisoners in the county jail.
Rambosk comes to the job after a 30-year career in Collier County law enforcement and public service. During that time he served as the city of Naples police chief and city manager, and as Collier County undersheriff.
As sheriff, Rambosk has promised change, but not disruptive change.
The finishing touches are being put on a 100-day plan and an outline for a year’s worth of programs and projects, Rambosk said. He is also planning townhall meetings for every district in the county to listen to residents’ ideas and concerns.
Rambosk said he is finishing a two-phase plan outlining organizational changes.
“At the end of January we will have department workshops...to overview vision, values, community expectations and organization expectations for the future,” Rambosk said.
Overall, Rambosk said it was a terrific day made possible by the hard work of many people.
“I’m excited and looking forward to serving the community,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always done.”