Our Nation's Military Heroes
August 5, 2021
Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman announced Thursday the next expansion of the agency’s How We Serve campaign which highlights how the sheriff’s office is serving military veterans in our community.
How We Serve: Defining the Culture of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office was released June 16, 2020, just more than two weeks after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The document was created in response to the national conversation about police use of force and demand from many advocacy groups to reform law enforcement policies. In April 2021, the sheriff’s office expanded the campaign with the release of How We Serve: Our Approach to Mental Illness, which focused on the unique ways the agency serves vulnerable populations and those experiencing mental illness.
To continue the conversation about law enforcement best practices and how the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office serves its community, How We Serve: Our Nation’s Military Heroes highlights the unique ways the agency is supporting the veteran community. Within the campaign, the agency shares details about partnerships with local veteran-focused organizations, employment opportunities for active and former military members, and the donation of forfeiture funds and other resources. The campaign also highlights services provided by the agency’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) to veterans experiencing homelessness and the implementation of the Veterans Housing Initiative for eligible inmates within the county’s Correctional Facility. Additional notable examples are featured on the second page of the document.
“There is nothing more honorable than serving your country which is why we so strongly support our Sarasota County veterans,” commented Sheriff Hoffman. “Whether it is donating computers to a local veteran-run non-profit, creating a specialty pod where inmates proudly hang the flags of their respective military branches, or helping the victim of a domestic battery get her service ribbons back, we are committed to doing everything we can to serve and support our nation’s heroes.”
To learn more about the How We Serve campaign, visit SarasotaSheriff.org or visit the agency’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube using the hashtag #SCSOHowWeServe. In coming days, citizens will also be able to visit the agency’s Sarasota headquarters located at 6010 Cattleridge Blvd., to pick up a printed copy of the campaign infographic.
We rely heavily on community partnerships with local veteran-focused organizations to identify barriers to veteran employment, support for veteran inmates, access to mental health treatment, and more. In April 2021, Sheriff Hoffman hosted representatives from more than a dozen local veteran organizations to discuss ways in which the sheriff’s office can best serve the veteran community.
As of July 2021, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office employs 123 U.S. Military veterans. The agency is approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to offer on-the-job and apprenticeship training for certain positions including Communications Operator/ Dispatcher, Corrections Deputy, and Deputy Sheriff. Under the program, hired veterans can receive GI Bill payments to supplement their income while being paid a trainee wage. Post 9/11 veterans are also eligible for a housing allowance from the VA. Members of our Human Resources Bureau attend several recruitment events annually including at MacDill Air Force Base and at local veteran job fairs.
The sheriff’s office is proud to have a Military Liaison who voluntarily serves as a point of contact for military personnel seeking careers with the sheriff’s office. A retired Army Colonel, Ben Knisely also represents the sheriff’s office in his many interactions with military and veteran organizations throughout the community.
Forfeiture Funds are often used to support local veteran-focused non-profit organizations. Historically, we have donated to Veterans Outreach, Operation Patriot Support, Operation Second Chance, and Military Officers Association of Sarasota.
Through a partnership with SRQ VETS, we have donated computers to provide access for veterans to complete job applications. SRQ VETS also assists by acquiring needed items for inmate veterans upon release.
Since the creation of our Homeless Outreach Team in 2018, members have assisted 67 homeless veterans. The team conducts street outreach and when an individual experiencing homelessness is identified as a veteran, we engage that individual in services and offer emergency shelter through the Salvation Army. A referral is made to Jewish Family & Children Services (JFCS) OMAP (Operation Military Assistance Program) which has access to numerous veteran programs and funds. While JFCS is our primary service partner for veterans, St. Vincent DePaul, the Sarasota County Health Department’s Veteran’s Services Office, Bay Pines Hospital, Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, and Goodwill’s Veteran’s Services program also provide invaluable assistance and services. Team members closely follow each case to make sure the client successfully obtains housing.
The Veterans Unit within the Correctional Facility was created to reestablish connections for eligibility of veteran services provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Residents are evaluated and informed of job opportunities and their possible qualification for GI bill benefits. Residents receive regular support from volunteers, members of the military, and veteran communities. They also receive guidance from Sarasota County's Veterans Services Officers and attend meetings to understand available services upon release. Participation in the Veterans Housing Initiative is voluntary, and veterans must meet certain criteria to qualify. Veteran Sheriff’s Office Members.
In 2017, after moving into our new Sarasota headquarters, one of our first priorities was creating a veteran wall to honor our current and past members. Inside our main conference room hangs the crests of all five military branches along with shadow boxes and awards honoring members from across our 1,000+ person agency.
Regional Manager of Veterans’ Outreach, Bob Graham, accepts a check from the sheriff’s office. In 2018, while Bob was collecting funds for the organization outside a local grocery store, a criminal stole $240 from his table. The sheriff’s office caught the criminal and utilized forfeiture funds to reimburse veterans’ outreach more than double what was stolen.
Sgt. Jason Pritchard poses for a photo with retired Navy Captain Robert O’Neill, during the "Salute To Veterans" ceremony at McIntosh Middle School. Captain O'Neill is a Pearl Harbor survivor who served during WWII, in Vietnam, and Korea.
In May 2021, Sheriff Hoffman presented a Sarasota County woman with a series of Army ribbons and medals from her several years of service. This veteran suffered a heinous act in which the suspect destroyed all of her commendations. In tears, she gratefully accepted the ribbons from her decorated military career. It is with thanks to our Veterans Liaison Colonel Ben Knisely, Victim Assistance Unit, and Criminal Investigations Section that this event was made possible. It took some digging, a review of her DD 214, and a search far and wide for a North Carolina National Guard ribbon, to put this all together. We are extremely proud we were able to collect these items and allow Sheriff Hoffman the opportunity to re-issue them to this Army vet.
Our personnel proudly serve both their community and country. In November 2019, Sergeant and Marine Corps veteran Dan Smith was recognized by Senator Rick Scott during a Veterans Appreciation Ceremony at VFW Post 3233.
Sheriff’s office employee veterans pay their respects during an indigent funeral at Sarasota National Cemetery.
Military veterans and their classmates from USF Sarasota-Manatee visit our headquarters for a recruitment event.
Captain Bryan Ivings and members of the agency’s Honor Guard walk in the annual Veterans Day parade in downtown Sarasota.