A comprehensive and coordinated plan to reduce criminal gang activity in Florida.
Become informed about Gang Reduction Task Force efforts in your region.
Learn how to recognize gang activity and prevent gang involvement among youth.
Things to Know
Attorney General Bill McCollum Press Release
Attorney General Names 2006 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year
TALLAHASSEE - Attorney General Bill McCollum today named Detective Sergeant James R. Contento, of the Tampa Police Department, as the recipient of the Attorney General's Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award for 2006. Detective Contento was joined by 12 fellow officers from around the state at a ceremony recognizing them for their dedication to law enforcement and their protection of the public.
In naming Detective Contento as this year’s award recipient, McCollum praised his reputation for building successful partnerships between the Tampa police department and the public it serves. To combat last season’s holiday shopping crime, Detective Contento coordinated a team of patrol officers including crime prevention, undercover, bicycle and mounted patrol officers to work with mall managers and retailers. As a result of this unified approach, the number of serious offenses in targeted areas dropped more than 25 percent.
“Each of these men and women represents the very best from among the 53,000 outstanding men and women of Florida’s law enforcement community,” McCollum said at today’s ceremony honoring the nominees. “We owe these officers much more than just recognition. They deserve our heartfelt gratitude and respect.”
Each nominee for the Attorney General’s award had previously been recognized as an “Officer of the Year” by a Florida law enforcement agency or organization that sponsors such a statewide award. Detective Contento was nominated by virtue of his selection by the Florida Retail Federation. A selection committee appointed by the Attorney General considered the distinguished group of nominees from state agencies and organizations including the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the State Law Enforcement Chiefs Association, the Florida Gang Investigators Association and the Florida Wildlife Federation.
Detective Sergeant Contento is the fourth recipient of the Attorney General’s annual award. Last year’s recipient was Detective Kevin Kuschel of the Palm Beach County School District Police Department. The recipient in 2004 was Tallahassee Police Officer Chuck Perry, and Marion County Deputy Sheriff Mike Rolls was honored as the first recipient of the award in 2003.
Each nominee was presented a certificate of commendation from Attorney General McCollum. Detective Contento was also presented a trophy and an award in acknowledgment of his service.
A list of the other nominees and their accomplishments follows:
- Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud: Lieutenant Michael Byrne
Lieutenant Byrne is recognized as a leader in the unique field of insurance fraud investigation. In 2006, he submitted thirty cases for prosecution which included sixteen arrests. His efforts have placed him in the top 10 percent of insurance fraud detectives in Florida. Lieutenant Byrne was the lead investigator in one of the largest staged accident rings in Pinellas County history, involving over thirty individuals attempting a fraud scam estimated to be over $300,000. Breaking the case was attributed largely to Lieutenant Byrne’s expertise and investigative skills.
- State Fire Marshal, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations: Detective John Esslinger
Detective Esslinger is a seasoned and respected investigator currently serving in Broward County. In one year alone, he investigated 76 fires, 33 of which were determined to be caused by arson. Detective Esslinger was a key investigator in a complicated Broward County arson case recently, determining that a fire at a commercial dry cleaning business was set by the owner and his son to collect on insurance claims. Last year he produced an arson fire arrest rate 21 percent higher than the national average.
- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the State Law Enforcement Chiefs Association: Wildlife Officer Rick Francis
Officer Francis has served for three years as a wildlife officer in Volusia County and has already developed a stellar reputation and superior work ethic. One of his outstanding cases resulted in the arrest of five suspects who were cutting and stealing high-voltage utility cable running across a marsh in New Smyrna Beach, which constituted grand theft of $100,000. In the past twelve months, Officer Francis has issued 241 citations and 1,151 warnings, demonstrating that he puts a high priority on educating the public.
- The Florida Gang Investigators Association: Manatee County Deputy Sheriff Thomas Frank
Deputy Frank was chosen as the 2006 Florida Gang Investigators Association “Officer of the Year” because of to his dedication and commitment to eradicating the gang problem. He devotes a significant amount of personal, “off duty” time to helping other law enforcement agencies develop enforcement and prevention strategies to accomplish this overwhelming task. Currently assigned to Manatee County, Deputy Frank has demonstrated a commitment to Florida’s youth by preventing young kids from joining gangs and helping those who are already involved with gangs to get out. The expertise he has developed in this unique field has resulted in a marked suppression of gangs and gang related activity.
- The Florida Police Chiefs Association: Officer Richard Hackett
Officer Hackett joined the Tampa Airport Police Department in 2003 following a 28-year career in the United States Air Force. He was instrumental in the effort to implement a Bicycle Patrol Squad to combat vehicle-related crimes at the Airport, with the immediate impact of reducing vehicle-related crimes in the parking garages by 60 percent. Additionally, Officer Hackett showed great courage in June 2005 when he and three other officers responded to a hostage situation in the parking garage. After exiting his vehicle and shooting his victim, the heavily armed suspect then directed his fire at the officers, but Officer Hackett held his ground and advanced, ultimately saving his own life and the lives of his fellow officers.
- The Florida Highway Patrol, Trooper of the Year: Troopers Jorge Lopez-Torres and Carlos Austin
In May 2005, Troopers Lopez-Torres and Austin responded to a serious vehicle crash that occurred in a remote section of the Sawgrass Expressway in Broward County. They were advised that the two vehicles, a pickup truck and a commercial motor vehicle, had a head-on collision and became submerged in a canal. Although informed that there was no sign of life in the commercial vehicle, both troopers dove into the murky canal waters. They freed the unresponsive driver and brought him to the surface, where they immediately began to administer CPR. Soon the victim began to breathe on his own and local emergency services arrived. Troopers Lopez-Torres and Austin placed themselves in great personal danger to save the life of this victim.
- The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Special Agent of the Year: Claudia Mulvey
Special Agent Mulvey is currently assigned to the Economic Crimes Squad in FDLE’s Miami Regional Operations Center. She has demonstrated superior investigative efforts and has contributed significantly to solving hard cases, including a case that involved interstate embezzlement of more than $2 million from an aviation company by its management. Her persistence in following up on leads and completing interviews as well as her ability to make a difficult financial case “comprehensible” resulted in this case’s prosecution by a United States Attorney.
- The Florida Wildlife Federation: Lieutenant Charles “Chuck” Russo
Lieutenant Russo, assigned to Palm Beach County, is well-known for blending a commitment to enforce the law with fairness and understanding. He is responsible for two very large Wildlife Management Areas on the Southeast coast and supervises up to 30 officers, who act as a focal point of fish and wildlife protection as well as the guardians of countless recreational users in our woods and on our waters. His relationship with the users of public lands is built on trust and respect and he is tireless and undaunted in his efforts to help preserve Florida’s natural resources.
- The Florida State Fraternal Order of Police: Detective Gustavo Sanchez
In June 2005, Miami Detective Sanchez reported to an off-duty job ahead of schedule and began to patrol the nearby area. The dispatcher advised him that there were swimmers in distress at a nearby Miami beach and he immediately responded. From the shore, he could see one of two young women struggling in heavy surf. Detective Sanchez swam approximately 75 yards out to the woman and brought her to shore against the heavy rip tide, high winds and waves. As lifeguards and other rescue personnel arrived, Detective Sanchez directed them to the area where the other woman was last seen, but unfortunately she could not be rescued. Detective Sanchez put his own life in peril to save the young woman, who could have perished without his assistance.
- The Florida Department of Transportation, Motor Carrier Compliance Office: Sergeant Steven Sharpton
Sergeant Sharpton, a resourceful law enforcement officer with a history of sustained superior performance, supervises sworn officers and non-sworn weight inspectors at the scale facility located on Interstate 10 in Santa Rosa County. Last October, while on duty at the scale facility, he was alerted to an emergency involving a driver who was pinned underneath a semi-trailer. Sergeant Sharpton and two weight inspectors rigged a makeshift jack and were able to raise the trailer just enough to free the driver. Sergeant Sharpton’s quick response and innovative thinking saved the life of the driver.
- The Florida Sheriffs Association, Deputy Sheriff Of the Year: Madison County Deputy Sheriff John Sleigher
Deputy Sleigher was named Deputy Sheriff of the Year following his actions that saved the life of a woman who was the victim of a violent domestic attack. In October 2005, Deputy Sleigher was dispatched to a rural home where he was informed that a man was inside, holding a knife to a his girlfriend’s throat. Deputy Sleigher drew his weapon and entered the home, where he observed a man holding a woman on the floor with an 8-inch blade pressed against the side of her neck. Deputy Sleigher ordered the man to drop the knife, but the suspect held the knife closer and indicated he planned to kill the woman. Deputy Sleigher advanced, and as the man raised his arm as if to stab the woman, Sleigher fired two rounds into the suspect’s right side. He then lunged forward, grabbing the suspect’s arm and firing again while freeing the woman from her attacker. Although terrified from the ordeal, the victim was not physically injured. Deputy Sleigher’s actions clearly saved the woman from serious injury or death.
- Department of Environmental Protection: Officer Byron Smith
Currently stationed in Orlando, Officer Smith demonstrates a rare combination of occupational knowledge, initiative and maturity. On one occasion, he conducted a late night search for an elderly couple in a swamp where their canoe had capsized. Upon finding the couple, Officer Smith gave his boots to the woman since she had lost her shoes in the river. Barefoot, he then successfully led the couple to safety through thick saw palmettos and swamp. Additionally, his aggressive patrol techniques have resulted in multiple arrests for felony drug possession, artifact theft and poaching. His positive attitude, example, instruction and mentoring activities raise the standards of his fellow officers, making Officer Smith a true asset to the Department of Environmental Protection.