A day with Sheriff Grady Judd

4:01 PM, Jul 29, 2010   |    comments
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Auburndale, Florida---It's daybreak in Polk County.

Sheriff Grady Judd has been up for hours and is already out meeting some longtime residents. Judd is the keynote speaker at a prayer breakfast in Auburndale.

He has arrived earlier than necessary because he was told the breakfast would start at 7a.m. when in fact it begins at 7:30.

An early start doesn't bother him much because there are people who have arrived already just to get the chance to see him.

They're lining up, hoping to shake his hand or to thank him for his service.

He stands at the door of the civic center and, one by one, greets folks as if they are old friends.

They are pleased as punch to see the sheriff in person.

Sheriff Judd is like a movie star in these parts.

One man tells us, "He's a modern day John Wayne and Clint Eastwood and a couple of those guys all rolled into one."

A woman exclaims, "Oh, he's a legend."

The crowd isn't disappointed.  Judd delivers a speech peppered with his fiery rhetoric and brings the crowd to its feet.

Moments later, he is in his car and doing an interview with a local radio station about his next stop for the day.   He will also be speaking at the Fallen Officer's Memorial in Lakeland.

Photojournalist Angela Clooney and I jump into the car with the sheriff as he heads to Lakeland.  He tells us today is pretty typical.

"It's busy like this for me everyday."

As we ride along, Judd explains the force behind his drive. He says he never wants to disappoint the people he serves.

He recalls a conversation he had with a woman. He says, "I had this little lady, a senior citizen, walk up to me at a store and say, 'Sheriff, we just appreciate you and what the deputies do for us.'  I said, 'Thank you very much and I work real hard not to disappoint you' and she said, 'Oh, honey, if you did, it would just break our heart.'"

That statement is something Judd takes to heart every day.

We arrive at the memorial and the sheriff is greeted once again by folks who are happy to see him.

He talks about the fallen officers who have put their lives on the line.  Some of those who are being remembered were his friends.

Once again, Judd is applauded for his heartfelt words.

Radio and television reporters wait until the end of the ceremony for an interview with Judd.

The sheriff has never been shy about standing in front of a camera. In fact, he is in such demand that he's booked three months in advance and is already getting requests for speaking engagements for next year.

It seems he was born with a badge. He started working at the Sheriff's Office when he was 18 years old.  At the time, he could buy a gun but his dad had to buy the bullets.

He is now 56 years old and serving his second term.

It's a job he's wanted to do since he was four years old, thanks to his mother.

Judd says, "She bought me a little police man's outfit with a tie and a hat and a punching bag.   I was punching the punching bag and finally held it down and declared victory over the bad guys."

And that's how it all began.

His mother passed away five years ago but she was able to see him sworn into office.

Judd was born and raised in Lakeland.  He has been married to his high school sweetheart for 37 years.

He is the go-to-guy when things go wrong.

Some have described him as candid, while others say he is crass.

He's known for his tough talk. Sometimes, that talk has earned him a great deal of criticism.

In fact, people still talk about the 2006 case when Deputy Matt Williams was killed. At the morgue, it was determined that the suspect in the case had been shot sixty-eight times by members of the SWAT team. When a reporter asked him why the suspect was shot so many times, Judd responded they had run out of ammunition and weren't taking any chances.

The sheriff makes no apology for his tough talk and calling bad guys thugs. He tells me, "If they don't want to be called that, then don't behave like that.  A thug is a thug."

Judd is now a grandfather but has always had a passion for going after child predators.

"I can't understand for the life of me how you can batter a baby in a diaper. Those haunt me. The persons who have the capability of doing that need to be locked up."

Those who have worked with Judd say they've always known he's the real deal. They call him honest, genuine and fair.

The sheriff prides himself in being a cop first.

"I carry the same gun my deputies carry.  I drive the same car my deputies drive.  I wear the same uniform my deputies wear.  Do you know why? If it's good enough for them, then it's good enough for me."

Many believe Judd has political aspirations beyond Polk County.  He said he's been asked to run for governor or the senate.

He says he has no interest in leaving Polk County.  He says, without hesitation, that the slow sausage mill in Washington would kill him.

Besides, Judd says, he already has the best job in the world.

He sits behind his desk and tells me, "When I wake up everyday, I know by the end of the day someone is going to rest easier because we are here. Someone is gong to have a better quality of life.  And some bad guy is going to jail for aggravating the community. So, how do you beat that?"

Ginger Gadsden, 10 News

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