At his swearing in as Longboat Key's 13th police chief since 1956 on Monday, George Turner said it was never his desire to leave the town's department in 2007 in the first place, but a career opportunity about 50 miles north of Tampa just couldn't be overlooked.
"The only reason I ever left Longboat Key was because I wanted to pursue my career as a chief," he said to the standing-room-only crowd of uniformed and retired police and civilian well-wishers in the Longboat Key Police Department's community room. "So off I went to Brooksville, didn't even know where Brooksville was when I first took that job. I had to take a ride up there, but it was bittersweet to leave Longboat Key back then. I'm really glad to be back."
Saying he was proud of the work he accomplished as a captain in the Longboat Key agency from 2001-2007, Turner said he was looking forward to the newest chapter in a 40-year law enforcement career after serving about 10 months as the town's interim chief. Officer Shawn Nagle, who Turner said was soon to retire, is the only officer remaining with the department from his previous time in town.
Former Chief John Kintz, who in 2001 swore Turner in Longboat Key, was among those at the ceremony.
The department's previous chief, Kelli Smith, served for about six months before taking the chief's position at the campus police department of Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, leaving the town to begin a search for a new law enforcement leader.
Town Manager Tom Harmer said he brought Turner, 65, in to help smooth the transitional period brought on by two departures in less than a year. Smith replaced Pete Cumming, who retired in October 2020. Harmer said he hired Turner as interim chief, thinking about six months would be sufficient.
"Obviously, I'm very happy," Turner said. "I was very happy to have the opportunity to come in as the interim. I think it's a good start for me to get to know everybody in the department."
Recalling one of their initial conversations, Harmer said the original focus was to reinstall stability and to begin pushing ahead on some issues, such as accreditation and filling some employment gaps.
"We're not going to talk about the chief position at all," he said that he remembered saying. "You're just going to come in and kind of help settle down because there's been a bit of a turnover in the chief position in a short period of time. And we have some things we want to keep advancing and I need your help. So let's just come in and help with that."
Harmer said six months soon became more like 10 months and that Turner has been helpful with all of that.
"We've started down this path of accreditation, which is a really big deal for the department," Harmer said.
Turner served as chief of the now-disbanded Brooksville Police Department in Hernando County from October 2007 through March 2018. He also served in law enforcement in Ulster County, New York, from 1978 to 2000, rising to the level of captain.
Turner is a resident of Manatee County, has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from State University of New York and is a graduate of the National FBI Academy.
Turner was instrumental in helping the Brooksville Police Department gain accreditation and recently brought in Detective Thomas Baugher, who retired from the FBI as a supervisory special agent. He will help the department with accreditation, training and investigations. Also toward the goal of accreditation and training, the Barancik Foundation donated $274,850 to the department.
But foremost, Harmer said, was Turner's commitment to the kinds of police work for which the Longboat Key department is best known, echoing what residents have told him. Although serious incidents have happened on the island, calls to help remove a snake or help with a garage door are among the ones that make impressions on residents.
"We're very fortunate that he worked here before," Harmer said. "And so when I interviewed him for the interim position, we talked about concierge policing and community policing. And he's like, 'Well, let me tell you, I was the best garage door fixer in the police department.'"