Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen stepping down August 1st

Published: Jul. 26, 2016 at 1:00 PM CDT
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The man who has helmed the Bay County Sheriff's Office since 2003 says he's going to retire sooner than he originally thought.

Frank McKeithen will step down August 1st from his role as Bay County Sheriff, ending a 43 year career in law enforcement. McKeithen had already announced his plans to retire when his current term ended. In a one sentence letter to the Bay County Commission dated July 26, 2016, McKeithen states "I have submitted my intention of retirement to the Governor's office effective August 1, 2016. Thank You, W. Frank McKeithen."

McKeithen had previously endorsed his successor at the Sheriff's Office, Major Tommy Ford. Ford was elected after no one qualified to run against him in the primary or general elections.

Tommy Ford says he's learned a lot in the seven years he sat besides McKeithen. He says he has some ideas for the future and he's ready to be the new sheriff in town.

"Using a technique called problem oriented policing where we use our data on crime statistics in order to deploy our resources effectively when a certain area is having a criminal problem," said Ford. "Again we do all of that already, but I'd like to expand on some of that."

Major Ford says he also wants to continue to fight child abuse. He says they have a great relationship with the Gulf Coast Children's Advocacy Center, and he says he plans to create some new programs to protect children.

Major Ford says another one of his top priorities as sheriff will be to continue McKeithen's fight against drug trafficking.

McKeithen started his career in law enforcement in 1973 with the Panama City Police Department. During his more than four decades in law enforcement he worked in various capacities at PCPD, BCSO and Gulf County Sheriff's Office.

McKeithen was appointed Gulf County Sheriff in 1995. He was elected Gulf County Sheriff in 1996 and ran unopposed in 2000.

In 2003, then-governor Jeb Bush appointed McKeithen to his current position as Bay County Sheriff after McKeithen's predecessor, and current Bay County Commissioner Guy Tunnell was appointed head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. McKeithen was elected Bay County Sheriff in 2004, ran unopposed in 2008 and won re-election in 2012.

In an interview earlier this year with Neysa Wilkins, McKeithen said he doesn't have any specific plans for retirement.

"Honestly, I have no clue," McKeithen said. "I have no idea what I'm gonna do but I realized in the last couple of months that I didn't want to be the Sheriff anymore."

That decision was largely due to events over the past year.

"Last year's spring break (2015) was probably the absolute worst consistent, constant issue I've ever dealt with in my life," McKeithen explained. "It was 50 days of absolute hell as far as I'm concerned. I was worried about the guys that work here. I'm close to them and their family. Every phone call I got I was worried about one of them being shot or hurt. I was worried about someone else being shot or hurt. Because I take this job personally. I'm the one that people depend on to make sure their kids are safe that's here in our county and that the public's safe. The wives and the children of the people who work here depend on me to keep daddy safe. It's a lot of pressure and it took its toll last year, I'm telling you."

After that spring break, McKeithen decided to work toward changing the out of control behavior that was making national headlines.

"I promised myself that I would help do something to quell this madness," said McKeithen. "And certainly it hasn't been the most popular thing in the world for some folks but I truly believe it was the right thing to do. That we needed as a community to stop, time out, let's back up and let's look at what we're doing to ourselves and our community."

He says he still believes in morals and integrity.

"We're getting away from what our country was based on and built on and it was religion and morality. I'm not gonna change, the world's changing and I know I'm not gonna change when it comes to things like that so my best bet is to slow down and back up and turn it over to someone else," said McKeithen.