ST. LUCIE COUNTY — Kevin Carter, a Republican and former St. Lucie County sheriff’s deputy, is challenging longtime incumbent Democrat Ken Mascara in the November election for St. Lucie County Sheriff.
Carter, 62, a political newcomer, defeated Richard Williams in the Aug. 18 Republican primary for the chance to unseat Mascara, St. Lucie County’s five-term Democratic sheriff since 2000.
“For the last two decades, our citizens have witnessed my involvement in their community, they’ve witnessed my work ethic and they‘ve witnessed the results and the results being we are one of the safest counties in the state of Florida,” said Mascara, 62. “This is a great place to raise a family, a great place to work, a great place to live and a fabulous place to send your kids to school.”
More: Nov. 3 Election Guide: What you need to know to vote on the Treasure Coast
Repeated attempts to reach Carter at his home, and via phone, email and text message since Sept. 2 have been unsuccessful.
According to his website, Carter was born in Pennsylvania, and moved to St. Lucie County as a child. He served in the Navy and spent his career as a deputy with the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, first as a detention deputy in the jail and then as a patrol deputy, detective, and school resource officer He retired in 2012.
Being sheriff carries a four-year term and $152,130 annual salary to oversee a nearly $87.5 million budget and staff of 555 sworn officers and 217 civilians.
More community involvement
If re-elected, Mascara said he wants to expand and strengthen the Sheriff’s Office’s community outreach and involvement initiatives.
“I think everyone will agree that we are seeing a transition of what law enforcement is and what many in our community want it to be,” he said. “One thing that we’ve positioned ourselves to do probably around five or six years ago was to be more actively involved in all facets of our community.”
Mascara said he wants “to expand that mission in the next four years.”
That, he said, means more community-oriented programs, outreach events and mentoring activities.
He noted a dialogue program in which youths who could be at high-risk have dinner with deputies and interact with them, and the “Shop with a Cop” program.
“We just continue to do a lot of things in our community to positively mentor children and build those relationships that I think is so important right now,” he said.
In an interview for a TCPalm story that published in July, Carter said he has no issues with Mascara, for whom he worked a long time.
More: Supervisor of Elections says she was unaware St. Lucie County was targeted by Russians
“He has done a wonderful job,” Carter told TCPalm. “I think maybe it’s time for somebody else to come in.”
Carter thinks it’s time for more Republicans to run in the traditionally Democratic county, he said in a statement on the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections website.
As of Sept. 15, Mascara reported $142,910 in monetary contributions and $6,466.71 in expenditures, according to information accessed via the elections supervisor’s website. Carter reported receiving $23,550 in contributions and $16,688.27 in expenditures.
Opioids and overdoses
Mascara reported a significant drug problem in the community, mainly involving heroin and fentanyl, an extremely powerful synthetic opioid sometimes mixed with heroin, and overdoses.
“We’re no different than anyone else,” Mascara said. “It’s devastating to families and individuals and we continue to put a tremendous amount of resources to prevent overdoses, and if they do occur to offer some hope to families to transitioning them toward treatment rather than arrest.”
Overdose calls, Mascara said, are a top priority.
“We send detectives to start the investigation of what kind of drug it was, where was it purchased, how was it purchased and how did they get the money to make the purchase,” he said.
Mascara said detectives have been successful in identifying dealers.
“Sadly, when one is arrested and put away there’s another one to fill the void,” Mascara said.
‘All be one’
Mascara said some viewed law enforcement as “them versus our community.”
“That had to change. We had to change that perception,” he said. “That perception could be damaging for our success and the success of our community.”
He said his agency has transitioned to an “all be one” philosophy.
“This is our community and we are one,” he said. “We just have to prove it each and every day through our deputies’ actions and their involvement in our community.”
In terms of racial issues and policing that have become a national issue in recent months, Mascara said his agency has tried to directly reflect the community.
“When you can bring diversity into your operation similar to your community that helps tremendously in preventing that type of criticism from one group,” Mascara said, noting the agency works to recruit from within the community.
More: Fort Pierce police using federal grant to add community officers to address violent crime
New hires are better vetted and trained and better represent the community than in years past, Mascara said.
“We have Haitians, Jamaicans, Indians, Blacks, whites,” he said. “That’s important, that really has been one of my goals.”
While some across the country have criticized law enforcement and use of force in general, Mascara said his agency reviews policies annually and updates them if they feel it’s necessary.
He said if a controversial event or one that calls law enforcement interaction into question occurs “we immediately pull our policies that would address that action … if necessary we change them.”
More: Florida primary: St. Lucie County sheriff’s candidates differ on race relations
In an interview for a story that published in July, Carter said he does not think there are any race relations issues in St. Lucie County, and he sees no need for changing the “very good” use-of-force policy or de-escalation procedures.
Mascara brought up George Floyd, whose death in May after an incident with police in Minneapolis fueled national demonstrations and questions about race and policing. An officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
Mascara said three officers were there and didn’t intervene.
He said St. Lucie County sheriff’s policy states deputies must intervene in incidents in which they feel other deputies use too much force, but it is “buried within our policy.”
“We immediately pulled it out of our policy and put in a bullet near the top of our policies so that our new hires as well as our current deputies … will realize that’s a very, very important facet,” he said. “If they witness a fellow deputy overusing force to make an arrest, they are compelled … to report that immediately.”
Will Greenlee is a breaking news reporter for TCPalm. He also covers strange, wild and weird Treasure Coast crimes in “Off The Beat.” Follow Will on Twitter @OffTheBeatTweet or reach him by phone at 772-692-8936. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re a subscriber, thank you. If not, become a subscriber to get the latest breaking news and weird crime coverage.