An Interview with Candidate Eric Flowers:
From a very young age, candidate for Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers knew he wanted to be in law enforcement. We sat down with him to talk about his life and his vision for the agency.
Before we go into the history, talk about your experience at the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office and positions you have held.
EF: I have been with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office for 16 years. I started in patrol in 2003, and since then was a member of the SWAT team, on the Honor Guard, an undercover narcotics detective, a sex offender tracker, a detective sergeant in Criminal Investigation, in Public and Community Affairs and now as Major for the Bureau of Administration.
Describe your current position.
EF: I lead about 1/3 of the agency. There are three Majors. I lead about 200 people in my current position as Major for the Bureau of Administration which includes about 50 sworn deputies and the rest civilian employees. I am over the courthouse, school resource, all internal technology/IT and support services, fleet services which is all vehicles, human resources, purchasing, crime prevention, media, government affairs and homeland security. I have been fortunate to be in a position to learn about budgeting and how our agency operates, and to be a part of critical decision making. I don’t agree with every decision that gets made but I am there, and I understand why those decisions are being made.
When did you first think about being in law enforcement?
EF: As a child. There was a convergence of influences. My dad was a security guard when I was a kid, and I remember seeing him put on his uniform every day and go off to work. Once he saved a baby and this made a huge impression on me. Some lady tried to run out of the hospital with a baby, and he stopped her and saved the baby. He also bought a police scanner for the house which I listened to constantly, and then the television show COPS debuted when I was about 8 years old. I just absolutely loved everything about policing. I was a big fan of GI Joe as a kid too. And so, all that just melded into the direction I am going.
Tell us more about your early years.
EF: My parents were born and raised in Maryland, which is where I was born. My dad is a mechanic by trade and my mom is a school teacher. We moved to Florida and I started at Sebastian River High School when I was 15 years old. I had spent some time in the county and just really fell in love with the school. I was playing travel baseball at the time. It was a brand-new school, and a great community. Really just out in the middle of a cow pasture, you know, and that was such a beautiful thing, compared to the hustle and bustle of so many other parts of Florida. Our deputy at the school was Deputy Rafael Manotas. He is now retired. He actually retired just as I was coming on. Dr. Fran Adams was my principal. I graduated with honors.
You have quite an extensive educational background. You are working on your PhD now? Tell us about your education.
EF: After high school graduation, I spent a little time in Orlando at University of Central Florida and then came back. At age 19 I was a manager for Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club and was responsible for 100 employees. I had been thinking about joining the Air force, and then 9/11 happened. September 11, 2001. I was 21 years old, and it made me decide to attend the police academy. So, I started law enforcement with some college. I say that intentionally because there are a lot of people out there with some college. And anybody can finish! Anybody can get through it! It’s about tenacity and not giving up. Even people who walk during a marathon finish, right? It’s the same thing for education.
And now you are about to earn your PhD in Public Affairs?
EF: Yes. And so, I started law enforcement at 23 with some college and I was able to finish my associate’s degree my first year in law enforcement. And so one day I was riding along listening to my radio and an ad came on for Stetson University that inspired me to go and earn my Bachelor’s in Business Administration from their campus in Celebration.
Why did you choose Business Administration?
EF: I had so many people in my life – people in law enforcement – that said don’t get a degree in criminal justice but to get it in something else. It turns out that business degree is probably one of the most important things that I did because I learned about budgeting, project management, marketing and so many important concepts in business that I will need as Sheriff. I enjoyed it so much that I went on to earn a Graduate Certificate of Police Leadership and a Master of Science in Criminal Justice, both at the University of Central Florida. Now I am earning my Ph.D. in Public Affairs there as well.
You are also a husband and a father. Talk about that.
EF: I met my wife Rachel in 2008. She had just moved here from Massachusetts. Her whole family is here. She is a nurse at Indian River Medical Center in the delivery room. We dated two years before we got engaged in 2010. It was the day before my 30th birthday that we got engaged. I got down on one knee while we were in Daytona Beach – I was there for a leadership class. She said yes. I said, I would like to ask you one thing, that you give me time to finish my bachelor’s degree and work on my master’s degree. Well, it ended up being a two-year engagement! We got married in April of 2012. In October of 2015 we had our son Easton. He was diagnosed with autism and Rachel and I have been part of a great support network. We love our little guy with all our hearts.
Why do you love Indian River County?
EF: Our community is special. There is no doubt about that. It’s different. I knew that when I was in high school. I knew that when I became a deputy sheriff. It’s not even like other communities that border us. We are very connected here. We have a small town feel and have managed to hold onto that. I believe that’s because we had great leaders here who designed our community to be that way and I think it’s important our future leaders understand and respect that history and how we got to where we are now. Our history, must play a role in the decisions for our future.
What is the vision for your administration as Sheriff?
EF: The focus of my administration is going to be on ensuring the safety of our community. That means incarcerating people who deserve to serve time for the crimes that they are committing. It can’t just be lip service. The majority of our community is made up of really good people leading productive lives. Then there is a smaller group of people who fall in the middle: good people who make bad decisions. It’s important we hold those people accountable, but then we also kind of wrap our arms around them and help them get back on the right track. Many of them are our family members, our friends. People who can make the decision to lead productive lives going forward. And then of course we have our violent felony offenders. There is evil in the world and if we lose sight of that, then we have lost everything. We are focused on stopping the evil. Those people do not get any breaks. We have to ensure that the citizens of Indian River County know that their sheriff’s office is here to help and protect them.
We will take care of our employees. The community needs to know we care about our employees too. Now obviously if they make a mistake, just like a member of the family, they have to be corrected. But we are going to really love our employees, our volunteers, and everyone who is a part of the team. I certainly see the community as part of that team.
In fact, you are not accepting any donations to the campaign from the employees, is that right?
EF: Correct. While I appreciate the support I am receiving from many of the agency members, I have asked that they not make financial contributions to the campaign.
What would you say are some of your strongest traits to be Sheriff?
EF: I am fiscally conservative, and I feel we can make the taxpayers’ dollars go even further. I have a history of proven leadership, and I have the education, background and skills to lead an agency of this size. You have to be able to come to the table and work side by side with people – especially people you don’t agree with. I feel like I can go into a table of two people who absolutely don’t get along with each other and probably get something done with them. I have the ability to accomplish things despite the gravity and the setbacks. Every day I just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward and eventually things get accomplished. For years now, I have been working with county commissioners, city officials and community leaders. I am always looking for opportunities to make little wins and eventually they add up to something substantial. I have a proven track record that shows I can accomplish good things, both large and small, for our community.
How would you describe your leadership philosophy within the Sheriff’s Office?
EF: I am customer-service oriented. Everyone that presents themselves is a customer whether it is our employees, a victim of a crime, our inmates who are the loved ones of people in our community, or someone that wants to interact and make a donation to the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranches. All those folks are customers to us and so it is imperative that we always come to the table with a smile on our faces and show that we are here to help. We recognize that people don’t come to us on the best days of their lives; they come to us on the worst days of their lives. It is important that we are professional, that they see that we can get things done, and that we provide them with the highest level of professional policing. People are paying hard-earned taxes and so when they do need our services, it is important they are getting a good product back from their sheriff’s office.
Any closing thoughts?
Many people already know the way I do things. If what I bring to the table is what you like, imagine me leading all 500 employees at the Sheriff’s Office and getting everyone going in that direction. I know my team can accomplish great things. I look forward to serving the community as Indian River County’s 11th Sheriff.