Orange County sheriff candidate Jose “Joe” Lopez formally kicked off his campaign amid supporters late Monday with a pledge to run his campaign and the sheriff’s office with integrity, loyalty and effective leadership.

Lopez, a retired chief from the Florida Highway Patrol, faces Orlando Police Chief John Mina in the contest. They both seek to succeed Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, who’s running for mayor this year and would have to resign his post to qualify for the ballot, forcing a special election.

With a rally at the Cafe Caobana, a Cuban restaurant next door to the Florida Highway Patrol station in east Orange County, Lopez also pledged that his platform would include focusing on reduction of violent crime, expansion of community policing, and aggressive recruitment, hiring, and retention to fill and keep filled what he said has been a chronic shortage of hundreds of deputies in the department.

He said right now the department is about 250 short, despite Demings’ successful effort last fall to push the largest pay increase in memory through the Orange County Board of Commissioners. The chronic shortage, Lopez said, means the department cannot function as it should. T

hat must start with beefing up the office that does background checks, with more investigators, and actively recruiting with the Florida National Guard and military. He said even with the raises Demings pushed through, the pay still needs to be increased and benefits improved, because it had been compressed from too many years without raises, and still remains uncompetitive with many municipal police forces.

“We can’t do business as usual. We have to look at what we have today and reevaluate, including a review of how we hire and recruit deputies. We can’t wait five years to get 250 deputies. We’re going to have to do something about it,” Lopez said.

For that, Lopez stressed he’ll maintain his commitments to integrity, loyalty and effective leadership he said his campaign is based upon, and said he will use that in building a leadership team in the sheriff’s office.

“What is integrity? What do you do when the lights are turned off? Loyalty? Loyalty to my community loyalty to my constituents. Loyalty to my cause and what I promise what I’m going to do when I become sheriff. Effective leadership? For 32 years I’ve been on the path of leadership. It is for me a personal journey.

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