BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. – Is it policing or just politics? That's what some are wondering about five taxpayer-financed Broward Sheriff's Office cars festooned with larger-than-life images of Sheriff Scott Israel next to his name. The cars are expected to be assigned to members of Israel's Community Outreach team, which itself has been staffed by several of the sheriff's campaign supporters.
One of those balking at the new cars is Willie Jones, a retired BSO sergeant now running against Israel for sheriff, who said he couldn't believe it when someone showed him a photo of one of the cars. Jones alleged it was an election-year tactic.
When asked if he considered the cars a rolling campaign ad, he answered, "If they're not, they look like them."
The photo of Israel in uniform seen on the BSO cars is indeed the same one he features on his campaign website. While there are no laws forbidding politicians from using their elected office for self-promotion, Jones said the cars raise both ethical concerns and questions about fairness.
"People should always believe that the top cop in Broward County is above reproach," Jones said.
Before he was elected, Israel criticized his opponent, then-Sheriff Al Lamberti, for having his likeness on the side of trucks used for so-called "shred-a-thons" of documents for the public. But once he was elected, Israel continued the practice, only with his image rather than Lamberti's. When he was sworn into office in 2013, he promised to "depoliticize BSO."
"If we're doing our jobs right and I'm looking good, we'll get re-elected," he told deputies at that time.
But soon after, Israel hired several political supporters at BSO as aides for his newly formed community outreach division, including campaign fundraiser Stephen Greenberger, newspaper reporter Elgin Jones, campaign volunteer Harrison Grandwilliams, campaign supporter Lynn Reich, Democratic activist Patti Lynn and others from the political world. It is for that unit that the five cars are earmarked for assignment.
The sheriff refused an interview request, but BSO spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright said the costs of the initiative isn't yet known and said that the design featuring Israel's photo isn't yet finalized. She also said the sheriff wasn't involved in approving the design and the final look for the cars may change before they officially hit the road.
Like Israel before him, Jones said he would cleanse the BSO of politics if elected.
"Once I become sheriff we are going to take the politics out of policing," he vowed.
Follow Local 10 News on Twitter @WPLGLocal10