On Tuesday morning, Sheriff Rick Wells’ dream came true.
Wells stood with his wife Lupita; two of his sons, Tyler and Brody; and father, former Sheriff Charlie Wells, at his side as he took the oath of office as sheriff of Manatee County.
“I always knew growing up that I would be a police officer. I really had no choice,” Wells said as the crowd laughed. “Growing up as a young boy, I would watch my father putting on his uniform every day, knowing that one day that would be me.”
He took a moment to acknowledge his son, Michael Wells, who could not be present, and his sister, Michelle Wells, who died in 1985, as he became overcome with emotion.
“Michelle spent a lot of time with me growing up, and I’m sure she’s looking down and thinking, ‘Holy cow, I can’t believe what you’ve done with your life,’” Wells said as he turned tears to laughter.
Afterward, the elder Wells admitted that as he watched his son become emotional, he became “double emotional.”
“My family helped define me as a person, my belief that God has a purpose for a life and that He has blessed me with this opportunity to serve my community as sheriff of Manatee County, and my belief that people should be treated with respect no matter what the circumstances are,” Rick Wells said.
Wells also addressed all the men and women of the sheriff’s office, including those in the standing-room only crowd that spilled into the hallway at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto.
“You are very important to me, and I worry about you like I would my family, because you are my family,” Wells said.
He vowed to continue to provide them with the best equipment and training available to assure they are as efficient and safe as possible.
“I will fight for you against unjust criticism, and I will challenge those critiques to stand one day in your shoes,” Wells said. “Your dedication to serve in this profession is aspiring, and it is my honor to serve next to you as your sheriff.”
His mentor, the outgoing Sheriff Brad Steube, held the position since April 2007, after Charlie Wells retired before the end of his term and former Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Steube. The retiring sheriff sat beside Wells’ family on Tuesday morning, and was all smiles as he watched the man he mentored take office.
Following the ceremony, Steube said it was nice to finally see his succession plan become a reality.
Looking forward, Steube said he intended on taking a couple of months to decompress, work on his property and spend time with his grandchildren. He’s also looking forward to the phone not waking him nightly, he said, laughing.
The younger Wells had served as Steube’s second in command since February 2014, his second and final return to the sheriff’s office. Wells first left the sheriff’s office to work for the Florida Highway Patrol when his father announced his own candidacy for sheriff.
Being sheriff has been a life-long dream of his, one that he shared with Steube after he became sheriff. Steube later hired the younger Wells when a lieutenant position became available. But when the chief of police position became available in 2010, they both agreed it would be a good career move to prepare him for the role of sheriff one day. Wells sought and held the position until returning to the sheriff’s office in February 2015.
“It was a surreal feeling,” the elder Wells said following his son’s swearing-in ceremony.
As he stood shaking hands of the many members of the sheriff’s office excited to see him again, Charlie Wells shared his confidence that his son would do the job of sheriff well.
“I’m extremely proud of Rick,” Wells said. “I’ve always been proud of Rick”
Rick Wells said that, despite his father’s and Steube’s advice not to go into politics, both men had always acted as mentors to him. His advice to others: “You got to be yourself.”
“I’m not Sheriff Steube. I’m not Charlie Wells. I’m Rick Wells,” he said. “And that’s how I’ll always act. I will always be myself. I think my qualities are different than theirs and we all have a different way of handling situations. So I will always just be myself.”
Wells said he was blessed and looked forward to continuing the work of his father and Steube.
Law enforcement has changed a lot during his 31-year-long career, Rick Wells told the crowd after taking his oath.
“Community policing can no longer be used as a catch phrase to make a law enforcement agency look good. It must be a standard daily approach so our deputies can build the trust in the community,” he said.
He’s already proud of deputies at the sheriff’s office who have worked to build those relationships, Wells added.
“The heroin epidemic has devastated our community,” the sheriff said, “and it is imperative that we strengthen our partnership with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to ensure that we have the resources needed to apprehend tall those responsible for the sale or dist of heroin, fentayl, carfentanil or any other synthetic used to destroy the lives of others.”