When residents refused to evacuate for hurricanes, Longboat Key Police Chief Wayne McCammon told them, “Put your name on a toe tag so we can identify you.”
When the Longboat Key Town Commission balked at sending him to the FBI Academy, McCammon said, “I have no desire to be a pet rock police chief.”
When he disagreed with his officers, he debated the issue in his signature booming voice and colorful choice of words.
“I remember sometimes just storming out of his office and just being mad as hell at him,” said former Longboat Key Police Chief John Kintz, whom McCammon hired fresh out of the Manatee County Police Academy in 1981. “You knew who he was and you always knew where you stood with him.”
“Wayne was really big on the truth,” said retired Longboat Key Deputy Police Chief Martin Sharkey, whom McCammon also hired in 1981. “One of the things he told me was that the one thing that would get me fired was being untruthful. I think Wayne was a really good judge of character.”
McCammon, who served as Longboat Key’s police chief from 1973 to 1996, died May 27. He was 83.
As he prepared to retire in 1996, he told the Longboat Observer:
“The day I was hired as chief of police at Longboat Key was the best day in my law enforcement career.”
Eighteen years after his retirement, he still kept the letters from citizens thanking him for listening when they complained about a traffic citation, recommending a probation sentence and helping them without judging.
McCammon’s oldest daughter, Linda Romanowski, described her father’s love for the Key.
“He just really liked the community feel, and it meant a great deal to him to be able to help people,” she said.
McCammon took a similar approach to his role as the father of three daughters.
“He was very fair, always listened and was not judgmental,” Romanowski said. “He approached everything logically. He was very unflappable, our dad.”
“Our father taught us to be hard-working, productive citizens and to care and do for others. He was our hero, our protector. Dad was one-of-a-kind and leaves a great legacy behind,” his youngest daughter, Susie Meador, wrote in an email.
Born Oct. 28, 1930, in New Brunswick, N.J., McCammon never planned to become a cop. He joined the Army at 17 and served for eight years. He was wounded in action during the Korean War and was later stationed in Germany.
Later, he attended police academy on a whim and got his first law enforcement job in 1957, with the Fairlawn, N.J., police department, and resigned in 1968 to serve for two years as a civilian adviser to the South Vietnam national police.
After moving to Florida, McCammon joined the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. He left two years later to become police chief in Leavenworth, Kan., but returned to the area within six months after learning about the job opening on the Key.
When he was hired in 1973, the department had nine staffers, two patrol cars and a $90,000 annual budget. By the time he retired, it had 27 employees, eight patrol cars, two boats, a truck and a $1.4 million annual budget.
McCammon took pride in the Key’s low crime rates and the fact that during his leadership, his officers maintained law and order without ever firing a gun.
Despite low crime, he led the department through several high-profile cases, including six murders and Operation Longboat, a multi-agency effort that resulted in arrests of 11 men and women, including a Longboat Key couple, and the seizure of more than a ton of cocaine and $2 million in cash in 1989.
McCammon kept a close relationship with citizens and could often be found at the end of the day talking with them over a drink at Moore’s Stonecrab Restaurant, the Monkey Room at the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort or the Buccaneer Inn.
“He was a regular guy,” said Moore’s co-owner Alan Moore. “He wasn’t just a cop in a car. Everybody liked Wayne.”
Moore remembers how his father and uncle became instant friends with McCammon in 1973, when the police chief was new at the job.
The Moore brothers drank too much one night at the Holiday Inn, got thrown out and, to get even, drove to Cortez, retrieved a mullet net and flung it into the hotel pool with their truck.
McCammon arrived at the scene, and introduced himself, saying he was new in town. He made them pull their nets and clean up, but also talked to them, beginning a longtime friendship.
Dora Walters, retired Longboat Observer senior editor, remembers McCammon following her late one night as she drove an old pickup truck off the island. She thanked him later, thinking he was escorting her as a courtesy. But he hadn’t recognized her; the vehicle piqued his suspicion, and he chided her for driving it so late at night.
“We don’t do pickup trucks on the Key after 9 p.m.,” he told her.
As chief, McCammon took a chance on several young officers, including Sharkey and Kintz.
“I think he just saw something in me that I probably didn’t see at the time,” said Sharkey, who was 21 when McCammon hired him.
In the beginning, Sharkey didn’t like some of McCammon’s policies — like the way he insisted that police vehicles bear the words “Always at your service.”
“As a young policeman, I didn’t like it, but as I grew up out there, I came to understand what it meant to the town and its citizens,” he said.
He also wrote the Longboat Observer’s “Cops Corner” column from its inception in 1979 until his retirement, always in green ink on yellow paper. McCammon’s dry sense of humor made the column a hit with readers, although it was a well-guarded secret then that he was the writer.
“We hated it,” Sharkey said. “It showed all the little stuff we did. But it kind of made the people on Longboat Key feel closer to the police department.”
McCammon told his officers they could never learn enough and encouraged them to seek out training. He kept a yellow brick in his office that he’d earned after completing the FBI National Academy’s infamous obstacle course known as the Yellow Brick Road. When Kintz told him he wanted to earn his own brick, McCammon “got the ball rolling” but told Kintz he would have to shape up first.
“Listen, fat boy, you’re going to have to shed some pounds if you ever expect to pass that obstacle course and get that yellow brick,” McCammon told him.
Two years later, Kintz attended the FBI National Academy. He still displays his yellow brick proudly in his office.
Kintz described the legacy McCammon leaves on the island.
He said many icons of Longboat Key, like the Holiday Inn, have been replaced with condos over the last 10 or 15 years.
“So many of those places made Longboat Key what it was back in the day,” he said. “Wayne McCammon was just as much of an icon as some of those places.”
McCammon is survived by his daughters Linda Romanowski and Susie Meador, both of Lakewood Ranch, and Maggie Hicks, of Sarasota; four grandchildren; one great-grandson; and “sweetie” of more than 10 years, Olga Davis, of Longboat Key and Toronto.
Contributions can be made to Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee, mealsonwheelsplus.org.
Wayne McCammon’s dry sense of humor was evident in his “Cops Corner” entries in the Longboat Observer. The Jan. 1, 1979, entry was featured in a New Yorker cartoon in the 1980s.
1/1/79 — 2:29 p.m. Woman reports someone walking in her attic. House has no attic. Frequent caller.
5/3/80 — 5:42 p.m. Officer reports finding unoccupied bathing suits, one male and one female bikini. Gentleman located later who was diligently looking for the same. Case closed.
4/20/81 — 1:20 a.m. Alarm company reports noise at St. Mary Church. Intoxicated woman trying to get in to pray.
4/6/85 — 6:10 p.m. Assisted man with handcuff on left wrist, placed there by his lady friend; reason unknown.
11/9/93 — 11:08 p.m. Woman reports knocking at back door, Ketch Lane. Forgot she ordered pizza.
3/5/95 — 6 p.m. Woman called 911 for takeout food delivery. Advised that hunger pangs do not equal an emergency.