INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Sheriff Eric Flowers on Thursday submitted his paperwork to the Supervisor of Elections office declaring his aim to seek a second term in office.
The sheriff is the fourth to enter the 2024 Indian River County sheriff's race and third Republican.
Following through on statements he made in his first years in office that he would seek reelection, Flowers filed the necessary documents with county election officials. The highly-anticipated move signals to his opponents, that as sitting sheriff, he is the candidate to beat.
"My campaign starts today," Flowers said Thursday.
For now, Flowers faces three contenders, among them two top-ranking law enforcement officials including a career contemporary in his nearly two decades with Indian River County Sheriff’s Office and a local police chief.
Touchberry, president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, came in second in the August 2020 Republican primary with 24% of the vote to Flowers' 62%.
The three, so far, will face off in a Republican primary election Aug. 20, 2024. The winner of the primary would head to the general election Nov. 5, 2024 against Deborah Cooney, 60, no party affiliation, whose stated background is in banking administration and music performance and education.
Flowers was sworn in as sheriff Jan. 5, 2021, after taking 80 percent of the votes against Cooney in the Nov. 3, 2020, general election.
So far among his opponents’ fundraising efforts, Thornton is the standout with about $128,275 in contributions and $317 expenditures in his campaign. Touchberry has $54,937 in contributions and $11,283.06 in expenditures. Cooney has $5,400 in contributions and $4,006 in expenses.
There were no reports of Flowers' campaign finances on the county supervisor of election website Thursday. Flowers said that was because he just filed his paperwork the same day and election laws prevent the collection of contributions before the official start of a campaign.
The next finance reporting of contributions and expenses begins July 10.
Modern face of the IRCSO
Flowers set out his first year with a to-do list of major projects for the agency, its jail, and the county.
Entering office at the height of the second year of a pandemic, the rollout of many of those projects were affected by COVID-19 supply chain constraints and staffing shortages.
Still, the agency undertook simultaneous projects from 2021 and 2022 including equipping deputies with body cameras, overhauling jail healthcare, revamping security at the agency’s headquarters and installing automated license plate readers along county roadways.
Several policies were also rolled out. Deputies were provided new lightweight, posture-improving uniforms and moved to 12-hour shifts, rather than eight in several wellness directives. Earlier this year, Flowers touted the development of peer support groups for deputies, in an effort related to PTSD awareness.
The agency opened a Real Time Crime Center and re-opened a gun range for deputies at a former state prison.
The agency also sought out the development of its mobile app, launched last year. Along with housing information and services found on the agency's website, officials can send out alerts on crashes or active crime scenes with the "Indian River Sheriff FL" app, found on Apple's App Store or Google Play.
In a prepared statement released by his campaign Thursday, he said: "In just a few short years, we have transitioned the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office into a 21st century law enforcement agency with a renewed focus on public safety, customer service, employee care, and efficiency ... When planning for the path of law enforcement in our county, I take an approach that looks 10 to 20 years in the future and how we can improve our lives now as well as those of our future, your children and mine."
He noted plans under way to prepare detectives to reduce the chance of cryptocurrency and elaborate computer scams to plague the county, and he plans to work with the municipal police departments to initiate a unified 911 dispatch center "to avoid 911 callers being transferred during an emergency."
His first year was not without personal issues.
It wouldn’t be the first time a local sheriff, or any local public official, faced marital issues while in office, TCPalm columnist Laurence Reisman wrote in a Feb. 7 opinion column, the same day Flowers issued via departmental email an apology to his agency and the community in which he was “publicly apologizing” to his wife and his family for all the “hurt, embarrassment, and anger I’ve caused.”
He also apologized to the community for “not living up to my own personal high standards.”
Flowers told Reisman he would not let his personal life affect his job and role in “keeping our community safe.”
Another contentious point arose in Flowers’ second year following the public reorganization of administrative leadership and the demotion of his now political opponent, Thornton, who was the agency's first Black captain and deputy chief.
In April 2022, following a months-long internal affairs investigation into reports of a management style leading to morale decline and staffing departures within its jail, Flowers demoted Thornton from deputy chief over corrections, judicial services and community affairs to captain overseeing the school resource division.
The accusations were ultimately deemed unfounded and Thornton was cleared of any wrongdoing by investigators who reported there was insufficient evidence of agency code of conduct violations.
Corey Arwood is a breaking news reporter for TCPalm. Follow Corey on Twitter @coreyarwood, or reach him by phone at 772-978-2246.
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This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Sheriff Eric Flowers enters 2024 Indian River County sheriff's race