Don Hunter hasn’t completely moved into his new, corner office at the Marco Island Police Department but he jokes that it already feels lived in. After shaking hands for nearly 30 minutes and accepting the dozens of well wishes from supporters and colleagues who attended his swearing in on Monday, Chief Hunter kissed his wife, Melissa, goodbye and started his journey as the island’s fifth police leader.
“I’m so new I don’t know the challenges that I’ll face,” Hunter said shortly after his appointment ceremony, which drew representatives from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, where Hunter served for 30 years, including three elected terms as sheriff; police departments in Naples and Punta Gorda; Florida Highway Patrol; U.S. Coast Guard and Auxillery and Florida Division of Law Enforcement.
Personnel issues are usually the first item of business for a new chief, Hunter noted, but with the depth of experience Marco has on its police force – some of which he says exceeds his own – Hunter is looking forward to drawing on that know-how.
“It’s the first time I’ve been a chief,” Hunter joked.
No major changes in the police department – personnel or otherwise – are on the immediate horizon, noted Hunter, who said he wants to first assess the department. He plans to work closely with Capt. Dave Baer, as well.
Hunter commented that he’s taking the helm of a well-regarded police department, thanks to the work of former chiefs Roger Reinke and Thom Carr.
The new chief, who retired as Collier County Sheriff in 2009, had not considered getting back into law enforcement until he found out about the job opening.
“My wife only let me retire for eight months,” he said with a smile. Hunter most recently worked for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Naples.
“I’m proud to be here. Pleased to be considered and happy to be back in law enforcement.”
During Hunter’s appointment ceremony, City Council Chairman Jerry Gibson compared the hiring of a new city police chief to that of a book, complete with plot twists and turns.
“We came through a great chapter in the City of Marco (with former chief Thom Carr),” said Gibson. “When you come through a good chapter, you can’t wait for the next one.”
Gibson commented that having someone of Hunter’s experience is a great opportunity for the city, and that the standing-room-only attendance at Monday’s ceremony “speaks volumes for the reputation Chief Hunter has.”
“It’ll be great to work with him in law enforcement,” said Hunter’s successor, Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. “I’ve given him some advice on working in a municipality and he graciously accepted.”
No doubt leading a smaller police department will take a little getting used to. The island’s top cop believes that also provides the opportunity to develop greater relationships, both with staff members and citizens.
While those relationships will take time to nurture, Hunter said his first order of business will be the department’s $4 million dollar budget.
“Every tweak you make has an impact.”
Hunter is no stranger to the inner workings of Marco Island, which he oversaw as Sheriff before the island launched its own police department in 2000. Being elected to three terms as Sheriff gives him an advantage in the politics department, and his approachability was on display Monday as he shook hands and took time to speak with every person who waited to meet him.
I’m familiar with the politics,” Hunter said of the Island. “I’m sure we’ll (the residents) work well together and learn from each other.”