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Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri '00 Credits Eckerd for Professional Success

posted on 05/15/2013

By Mary Ellen Collins

"I grew up in a family of lawyers and my dad was a prosecutor – I always knew I wanted to be in law enforcement," says Pinellas County Sheriff and Eckerd alumnus Bob Gualtieri '00. In 1982, he joined the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office as a deputy sheriff, and spent 30 years working in detention and corrections, patrol operations and investigative operations. While advancing through his career, he tried to fit education into a busy professional life.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri '00"I was hodgepodging it. I took classes at USF, St. Leo University, St. Petersburg College – I just kept starting and stopping. When you work full-time, it's hard."

When he decided to leave the Sheriff's Office in 1998 in order to pursue a law degree, he enrolled in Eckerd's Program for Experienced Learners (PEL) with a perspective on higher education as being simply a means to an end. 

"My thought process was, 'This is a necessary evil to get where I want to be.' Having come from a hodgepodge academic background, [I thought] higher education was one of the vehicles you need in order to get where you want to go. I wanted to get in and out as fast as I could. I quickly realized it wasn't an evil. Eckerd changed my view of a lot of things. It really does make you think and it clicked for me. I grew from it and it definitely set me up for success in my professional career."

After graduating with a degree in American Studies, Gualtieri went straight to Stetson University College of Law. Although he went in with the idea of being a prosecutor, he says the experience made him realize the field was much bigger than the world of criminal law. He completed his degree in 2002 and went to work for Ford & Harrison in Tampa, where he practiced labor and employment law.

In a return to the place where his law enforcement career began, Gualtieri was hired as general counsel to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in 2006. Sheriff Jim Coats appointed him chief deputy in January 2008, and Gualtieri held the responsibilities of chief deputy and general counsel until being appointed sheriff when Coats retired in 2011. Last year he was elected to his first full term as sheriff. 

Although he might not have predicted a professional path that led from law enforcement to law practice and back to law enforcement, he says, "I've been fortunate in my career. Every move was my decision. When I left [the sheriff's office] in 1998, I loved what I was doing. When I was practicing law, I loved the firm and I loved the people. All the positives were there. Coming back to the sheriff's office was a choice."

Even without having a lot of downtime, Gualtieri manages to extend his public service beyond the job. He's on the boards of the Pinellas Education Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast; and is a member of the Gold Shield Foundation, which provides assistance to families of law enforcement officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty. The organizations that resonate with him most deeply are "The ones that focus on the kids. They are the future, they're the most vulnerable and they need the most help. A lot of them are in situations that aren't of their own making."

When asked about the possibility of an eventual return to practicing law, Gualtieri says he doesn't predict the future but hopes to be sheriff for a long time.

"We've always had a great department – we're triple accredited, but there's always an opportunity to be better, and that's what drives me. You hope to leave it better than you found it. . . . I hope I make a contribution that advances public safety for the whole county. It doesn't matter who it is. We owe it to the citizens – we are here for the people. We're using their money to provide services, and we have to do it in an effective, responsible way."

May 12-18, 2013, is National Police Week.

This feature is the seventh in a series of profiles of Eckerd alumni, faculty and staff who embody Eckerd's longstanding culture of service through their livelihoods and/or their volunteer activities. Through speaker presentations, campus initiatives and these profiles, Eckerd College's 2012-2013 Presidential Events Series, Cultivating Service: People, Politics Planet, demonstrate that service for the greater good can be achieved through scientific research, civil and public servant leadership, environmental protection, social justice action and commentary, foreign diplomacy, time in the armed forces, pro bono legal counsel and hands-on projects.

Read Previous Service Profiles:
Kathleen Peters '99
Watson Haynes '84
Frank Hamilton, Ph.D.
, Associate Professor of Management
Steve Kornell '95
Francine Haig-Jones '00
Darden Rice '00

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