Michelle Cook brings her own management style to CCSO

By Don Coble
Posted 11/24/20

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – You won’t see Michelle Cook on social media sipping a cup of coffee while drug offenders do their perp walk in front of cameras.

The new sheriff prefers to deflect the …

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Michelle Cook brings her own management style to CCSO

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – You won’t see Michelle Cook on social media sipping a cup of coffee while drug offenders do their perp walk in front of cameras.

The new sheriff prefers to deflect the praise for her agency’s success to the men and women of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.

But make no mistake: “I’m very firm in principle,” she said.

Cook brings a different management style to a department that faces challenges on many fronts. There are budgets to balance, morale to reform, a constant threat of COVID-19 at the jail and a growing drug epidemic to solve.

She knows an agency often is the reflection of its chief officer. Clay County is no different. Former sheriff Darryl Daniels was very comfortable being the face of his department. His style often was described as flamboyant, and it became a way his agency conducted its business.

Cook is a complete opposite. She is low-keyed outside the walls of her department. She lets her agency’s results – and the people who achieve it – be the way her office is perceived.

“My style is very different,” Cook said. “I don’t look for a lot of attention. I thrive more on genuine relationships. I’m approachable. I communicate. And I’m very firm and confident in my work. I’m confident with what we’re doing.”

Cook said morale at CCSO was low when Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed her to finish Daniels’ term on Sept. 1. Days earlier, Daniels was suspended by DeSantis one day after being arrested for destroying evidence and making false claims against his mistress. Cook won the Republican primary on Aug. 18, beating six other candidates, including Daniels.

Cook has 28 years of law enforcement experience. She was in charge of as many as 1,500 employees when she was the director of Patrol and Enforcement at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. She’s also been the police chief for 30 officers at Atlantic Beach.

“This is exactly what I expected,” Cook said. “I worked at an extremely large agency. I also worked at one that was very small. I finally found the middle ground agency with a hometown feel. That’s exactly what I wanted.”

Cook now is in charge of nearly 500 employees and a $65 million budget.

She’s already won praise from the Board of County Commissioners after she and county manager Howard Wanamaker worked to bridge the gap in what CCSO wanted and the BCC could afford.

In her first two weeks, they found common ground to reduce $835,000 from the budget Daniels submitted.

Cook said the use of volunteers and part-time deputies was an easy way to cut corners. Retired law enforcement officers and military personnel are perfect candidates to work a day or two a week. And all of them would be paid hourly with no costly benefits.

“A good example is our marine unit,” Cook said. “We have one officer in that unit. We can’t justify two or three in that department. But there’s a real need there, especially in the summer. What better way to bolster our marine unit than adding some part-timers when we need them?”

Cook’s new departmental plan will be implemented on Jan. 1.

At the same time, the jail is not only antiquated, it’s crowded.

“Our jail generally runs at capacity,” she said. “We use as much discretion as we can, but it’s a real challenge.”

Cook said another problem is the influx of methamphetamine and fentanyl.

“We have 140 active drug cases right now,” she said.

But she has a different approach to battling the scourge. She doesn’t like to post threats and promises to low-level offenders on the internet, and she won’t use the arrests as a marketing tool.

“I’m committed to addressing the problem, but I do it in a different way,” Cook said. “If we’re putting arrests on social media, that’s somebody we can’t use as an informant for other arrests. I want the big dealers who are much more difficult to arrest. I want the bigger fish, and I want to put them away for a long time. One good tool is using a small-time offender as an informant.

“You can’t do that if you’ve put their faces on social media.”

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