COLLIER COUNTY — Twenty nine years ago, Chris Roberts started his law enforcement career as a 19-year-old jail deputy.
After stints in patrol, violent crimes and special investigations, Roberts made his way back to the jail earlier this month when he was named corrections chief of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. Not to say that things are the same there.
“We do a lot more for the inmates than in the mid-80s,” he said. “That jail was what you’d expect of a jail of that era, where the inmates were behind bars and you only went in if you absolutely had to, if there was a fight or something.”
Roberts’ first day back in the jail was March 8, following former Chief Scott Salley’s retirement in January. Although most of Roberts’ career has been in investigations, he said his new role involves much of the same leadership and management skills he acquired as captain of the criminal investigations division from 2009 until earlier this year.
“Some of the folks I worked with suggested it and, under the circumstances, thought it would be a good fit over there so I threw my hat in the ring,” Roberts said of the jail job. “I’ve dived into the deep end of corrections and am learning the ins and outs of what makes a jail tick and be successful, as ours has.”
Roberts’ new position comes with a $137,558 salary, which a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said is standard for each of the agency’s six chiefs. Roberts made $126,132 in his former position as a captain in the special investigations division.
At the top of Roberts’ list of goals is improving morale for those who work in the county’s two jails.
Roberts noted that many jail deputies aspire to move to a patrol position, something he himself was able to achieve in about two years. But with a slowed-down economy and agency-wide budget cuts, many of the deputies have been unable to make the jump, he said.
Although Roberts said he was looking into a system to better facilitate those moves, he hopes to make coming to work at the jail a better experience in the meantime.
“I want folks that work there not only to do their job but enjoy it and enjoy each other, and make the assignment to jail be more enjoyable,” he said.
Roberts also said he has plans to evaluate the jail’s rehabilitation programs for low-level offenders, which include classes in culinary arts, Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and a PAWS program where inmates train service dogs for wounded veterans and children with disabilities.
With those programs, Roberts said he will be looking at the efficiency of the programs as well as their cost.
Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said Roberts was chosen for his “terrific background,” superior interpersonal skills and education, which includes an MBA with a focus in criminal justice from Northcentral University, an online school.
“Really, you know at the chief level, we look for a broad-based professional level of operational and administrative experience, along with education and training,” Rambosk said. “He’s got all of those things, and I think he’ll do a terrific job.”