MARCO ISLAND — Don Hunter tossed a softball in the air on his first day as the new Marco Island police chief.
Although he was ready for work, the former Collier County sheriff also had a game on his mind.
“I came to play,” Hunter told the crowd gathered in Marco’s community room as he held up a ball and mitt, and donned a big smile.
The small roast — directed toward Marco Fire Chief Mike Murphy — came after the Marco Island Fire Rescue Department beat the Marco Island Police Department in a landslide during a fundraising softball game earlier this year to benefit both departments.
“That trophy will be coming next door,” Hunter said. “We start immediately.”
What isn’t to start immediately are any major changes to the department, Hunter said following the ceremony.
“I need to get into the office and take a good look around,” Hunter said.
He plans to work closely with Capt. Dave Baer, he said.
“I don’t believe there will be any need for major changes,” Hunter said.
He plans to remain in his North Naples home and take the hour-long commute to Marco Island. After ending his 30-year career with the Sheriff’s Office in 2009, Hunter was contracted to work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children through January. He only had about six months of retirement before choosing to get back to law enforcement.
“I had a bit of a break — a big rest,” Hunter said.
He attributed his decision to get back to work to his wife, Melissa. He smiled, but declined to elaborate any further on what brought him back to law enforcement after having served as sheriff for five consecutive four-year terms from 1988 through 2008, and after having worked for the Sheriff’s Office since 1979.
“I’m focused on doing the best job as chief of police of Marco Island,” Hunter said. “I have no other personal agendas or goals in mind.”
Marco Island’s hunt for a new chief didn’t take long as Hunter was the only man that City Manager Jim Riviere said he wanted to step in following Carr’s retirement at the end of July.
Though the decision was solely up to the city manager, he had the support of City Council members.
“I look sometimes at life and it reminds me of reading a really, really good book,” City Council Chairman Jerry Gibson said during the ceremonial pinning of the badge and swearing-in. “Sometimes you come across a great chapter in the book... What a great chapter (Carr) wrote. When you read a great chapter it excites you for the next one.”
He said he was impressed that Marco Island’s small department of fewer than 40 officers could draw a person of Hunter’s caliber.
Hunter, 59, drew a crowd of chiefs, sheriffs and lieutenants from several agencies, including Punta Gorda Police Chief Butch Arenal, Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, Naples Police Chief Tom Weschler, as well as representatives from the Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and several other agencies. Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, led Hunter through the oath.
Hunter selected his wife to do the honors of pinning the new badge on the left side of his new white uniform.
The badge, which Baer described as a shield to protect officers, exhibits courage, Hunter said.
“It exhibits physical courage, emotional courage, mental courage,” Hunter said.
He thanked the dozens of men and women in the room who expressed their courage in the form of badges worn on their uniforms, regardless of the shape of their crests, which indicate their department, city, county or state.
As for that game — Murphy got the last laugh after the ceremony.
When it comes to work, he said he knows the two will work well together as they have in the past. When it comes to play — he too, said, game on.
“I’m afraid (Hunter) is setting himself up for failure,” Murphy said with a smile and a nod across the room at the new police chief. “At least on the softball side.”