CLAY COUNTY, Fla. - Historic change is about to take place in Clay County. On Jan. 3, Sheriff-Elect Darryl Daniels will take charge of the Clay County Sheriff's Office.
Daniels comes with experience. He spent 25 years with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and served nearly eight years in the U.S. Navy, based at Cecil Field. But, he has other loves, too, that he says drives his strength: He loves to box, work out, spend time with his one-year-old granddaughter, and take every step with his wife Denise.
The sheriff-elect first addressed the men and women he will lead at the Clay County Sheriff's Office at an "all hands" meeting. He was introduced to deputies and support staff by retiring Sheriff Rick Beseler, and told them he is not coming to clean house.
"Far be it for me to gut the Clay County Sheriff's Office of its leadership. I would be a fool to do that," he said to the crowd.
After serving in the Navy, Daniels began his law enforcement career in 1991. He started as a Jacksonville patrol officer and worked his way up the ranks to police chief. He even served as an auditor, determining whether law enforcement agencies statewide gain accreditation. Daniels knows the system inside and out.
"I've been exposed to all of them. You can't fool me. Don't even try. And I think that's going to be a benefit to both the members of the sheriff's office and to the community to have a sheriff at the helm who is well-equipped and understands the different aspects," Daniels told News4Jax.
While his name will go down in history as Clay County's first black Sheriff, Daniels says there's more he has to offer than just breaking the color barrier. He also wants those who didn't vote for him to know he's working just as hard for them.
"I am not naive to forget the fact that the majority of folks -- if you think of my little piece of the election that won -- did not vote for me. And so for those folks I have to earn their trust so that they understand the right person is assuming the role as the sheriff of Clay County. And I will do everything in my power every single day," he said.
Daniels explained that he'll fight to win the hearts of his entire community, he took us on a tour of his man cave at home.
"Godfather is by far one of my most favorite movies," he said while explaining mementos on his wall.
Also hanging, pictures of Mohammad Ali, Ken Norton and Evander Holyfield -- showing a motivation for fighting any challenge. But with that fighting spirit comes the art of friendship. Daniels says making important community connections, especially in high crime areas, is priority when working to keep residents safe.
"I will meet with the neighbors, neighbor by neighbor right on the front porches in those neighborhoods and speak to them about issues they are experiencing in the neighborhoods and get the intel that I would not otherwise be able to attain," he explained.
His approach to fighting crime is as tough as the firepower he uses for target practice, taking time to publicly, draw the line in the sand for all the bad guys to hear.
"The clock is ticking, and this is not the face of someone who's playing," said Daniels in his message to criminals. "I say this whole heartedly: It's time to leave Clay County. We can do this hard or soft, fast or slow, but I will do everything in my power every day to get you out of Clay County."
From areas of the county he says are haunted by a heavy narcotics presence, to issues making national headlines like the black lives matter movement and strained relations between cops and the community, Daniels says he's ready to tackle it all.
"Right now the Clay County Sheriff's Office enjoys a good relationship with the folks of Clay County, and I want to make sure it stays that way," said Daniels.
And Daniels wants everyone to know he is all ears for fresh ideas when you see him out and about, which will often be at the gym working out.
Daniels says hitting the weights several times a week works wonders on relieving the stress of being in command.
Another mental escape for him is being with the two loves of his life: his wife Denise and his one-year-old granddaughter, Judeah.
"My daughter is 32 years old so it's been a while since we've been doing this. So it's like fun," Daniels said while holding Judeah.
He takes care of his granddaughter every weekend and it's been exciting for both him and Denise. They've enjoyed more of that together since Daniels announced his retirement back in March from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office as chief of Health Services...
But, that didn't last long. He decided to run for Clay County Sheriff.
"So yes this has been one roller coaster ride, and I thought the ride was definitely over when he retired. And, I thought well surely he's just going to be home. We're going to be with our grandkids and everything is going to be nice. We're going to travel and do all this kind of good stuff, and then, nope! The roller coaster ride started all up again," said Denise. "When you have a spouse, like my husband, you have to be a very supportive wife. And I'm willing to share him with all of Clay County. And I'm just, I'm really proud of him."
Daniels says with the help of outgoing Sheriff Rick Beseler, it has been a smooth transition. One promise Daniels has made: continue Sheriff Beseler's work to build a multi-use complex for law enforcement near Camp Blanding. It would include a gun range, a driving training track and other training facilities, as well as a low-security detention facility to ease overcrowding at the Clay County Jail.
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