Martin County Sheriff's SWAT Commander

Each year, law enforcement officers come under fire. They are assaulted. They are killed.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reports that “on average,one law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty in the United States every 58 hours.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reports “that 51 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty in 2014. This is an increase of almost 89 percent when compared to the 27 officers killed in 2013. Offenders used firearms in 46 of the 51 felonious deaths.” Assaults against officers are averaging 58,930 yearly.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation also reports that 49,851 officers were victims of line-of-duty assaults in 2013.

Officers and deputies are from: local police, marshals, rangers, constables, highway patrol, state officers, sheriff’s office, and the department of corrections. They are men and women from their own local communities who have a desire to keep their towns and cities safe.

Sergeant Thomas Smith, Martin County Sheriff

Sergeant Thomas Smith, Martin County Sheriff

One such man is Sergeant Thomas Smith—at the Martin County Sheriff’s Office on the Treasure Coast in South Florida. Sergeant Smith grew up in Palm City, Florida and graduated from Martin County High School. A local, he ran a lawn mowing business in high school and paid his own way through the police academy. A law enforcement veteran, he has been a Sheriff’s deputy for 18 years.

In rural Martin County, Sergeant Smith oversees West County Operations, which is fondly called “Ranch and Grove,” where livestock neglect and farm equipment theft are investigated. Deputies also regularly deal with trespassing on private lands to hunt or poach, and people shooting at wildlife from the road which is a felony. Sheriff deputies utilize ATVs, trail cameras, night vision goggles, and a posse when needed for missing people or a manhunt. Deputies also carry tools to fix fences after a car crash. Fences are necessary to keep cows off roads and highways. (Approximately “half of Florida agricultural land is involved in cattle pastureland.“)

Martin County Sheriff SWAT Team Training

Martin County Sheriff SWAT Team Training

Sergeant Smith is also Martin County Sheriff’s SWAT Commander. SWAT is the acronym for Special Weapons and Tactics. Martin County SWAT is an auxiliary force within the Sheriff’s Office. Each of the 20 deputies must qualify to participate and receives no extra pay for participation.

Rigorous training and certification are required so that the team is ready when necessary for such activities as executing search warrants, hostage rescue, riot control, etc… This elite group has snipers and hostage negotiators.

Sergeant Thomas Smith with the BearCat

Sergeant Thomas Smith with the BearCat

In early 2015, the Sheriff’s Office purchased a $300,000 Bearcat G3 (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) with monies seized in narcotics investigations. Since acquiring the American-made Lenco,” SWAT has used the vehicle about a dozen times,” states Sergeant Smith.

Inside the BearCat

Inside the BearCat

Sergeant Smith adds, “With the BearCat we can safely rescue an officer down or a hostage. Sheriff Snyder has gotten us armor and new guns, which we very much needed. The guys in SWAT are happy about this.”

Inside the BearCat

Inside the BearCat

The BearCat is imposing, but it has provided armor to a team that used to arrive to execute a search warrant in a minivan. The vehicle also gives the deputies eyes and ears inside a building, tear gas may be deployed within a building through its ram, or a riot dispersed with the LRAD—Long Range Acoustic Device. Its armor can withstand a .50-caliber shot. Civilians can be more easily assisted during a hostage incident or terrorist threat. Inside, a platform rises and a turret opens for a sniper to stand, giving necessary cover to hostages and SWAT members on foot. Even the tires are run flat. The men are safe inside.

Who are these men and women?

Like Sergeant Smith, they are the neighbor boys and girls who have attended the local high school and grew up in the community. They are sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, moms and dads. They shop at the grocery stores and watch the ball games. They are the men and women of the community who are willing, if necessary, to lay down their lives for others.

Sergeant Smith was asked “If you could go back 18 years, would you do it again?” He answered, “Yes, I believe I would. When I first began with the Sheriff’s Office, I was paid $23,000. But I would have done it for nothing. I like helping people.”

HAVE A HERO TIP? Send your Hometown Hero tip to Kelly Jadon:

© 2015 "Hometown Heroes" Kelly Jadon

A Single Mom's Dream: Sheriff's Deputy Jenell Atlas Retires

Dreams still come true. Major Jenell Atlas recently retired from Florida's Martin County Sheriff’s Office after a 26-year career.

Jenell Atlas

Jenell Atlas

She was the first female to ever achieve the rank of Major and Jenell Atlas was the first female captain ever placed over the Indiantown substation.

Jenell Atlas is an award-winning officer; as Public Information Officer, she regularly took interviews from national news organizations (Good Morning America, New York Times, etc..) about the Martin County Sheriff Office for nine years, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Many of her ideas helped develop good public relations between the Sheriff’s Office and the community.

Under Sheriff Crowder’s administration, Deputy Atlas pointed the agency toward the need for a Public Information Officer, a website, a Sheriff’s calendar for residents, and a child support roundup for dads who were behind in payments. For that campaign, Deputy Atlas used her own story.

Jenell Atlas came to the Treasure Coast looking for a new life in a beautiful place. A single mother, she left Texas after being sexually harassed in the work place. Jenell worked hard. She took a position at Conchy Joe’s and rented a one-bedroom apartment for her daughter and herself. She gave her daughter the bedroom and she slept on the couch. They were poor for a long time. Jenell remembers buying pork chops and corn; she would give the meat and some corn to her daughter, but she herself would just eat corn. Corn was filling.

Jenell received no child support from her daughter’s father, even to this day, she is owed more than $250,000.

Jenell Atlas is not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, out of about 12 million single parent families in 2014, 83 percent were headed by single mothers in 2014.

Jenell was determined to get an education. She began at Indian River State College. While enrolled, she was required to take a no-credit class led by Barbara Kenney. Mrs. Kenney, herself a former cop, knew of Jenell’s interest in law enforcement and directed her to the Fort Pierce Police Academy, overseen by another woman. Applying there, Jenell received a grant which paid for her child’s care, gas, books, classes, even her bullets. Conchy Joe’s supported Jenell’s decision and gave her work whenever she came in.

At graduation in 1989, she applied to the Martin County Sheriff’s Office and was given a position by Sheriff Jim Holt. Jenell was 26 years old and describes herself as naïve. Only two other Sheriff’s deputies were women at the time.

The first three years she spent on midnight road patrol in Port Salerno. Every night was different. Deputy Atlas wrestled drunks, saw wrecks, broke up fights, and walked in on a rape in progress. One night she found a prostitute beat up and left in the woods. Another night she arrested a man for stealing cigarettes; he later returned and thanked Deputy Atlas. He had hit rock bottom that night and she’d saved his life.

“By 2007, 19,400 sheriffs were women.” (U.S. Department of Justice)

Jenell Atlas built her career as any other officer does: She saw road patrol, a post as the Public Information Officer (PIO), and later as a lieutenant took over departments within the administration.

Her mentor, Colonel Marvin Mickey Mann coached her, “You’re more than this,” he pointed to her PIO appearance, alluding to her mental capabilities. In 2004, Deputy Atlas began with the reorganization of each department she was given, cutting out waste and mismanagement. She started with Dispatch and Internet Technologies (10 servers, 600 computers, satellite phones, beepers, cell phones, etc..) No longer would Dispatchers make unnecessary phone calls, but would strictly do their own work. The monthly cell phone bill was reduced from $116,000 to $70,000. She rid the Office of pagers and old cell phones, tightening up the budget. To do this, she went through every bill. By 2007, her success led to greater responsibility. Deputy Atlas oversaw Records, which handles 5,000 pieces of paper daily; the Desk Sergeant, who greets visitors; Buildings; Gas; Training; Guns—there are 2,000 various types on hand; Evidence—88,000 pieces available; and Cars—the Sheriff’s Office has 333 vehicles.

Deputy Atlas worked seven days a week in order to keep up. On Sundays, she attended church and then spent afternoons looking over paperwork. This work was not done alone, but with the assistance of many managers and civilians who spoke up when necessary. Everyone who participated was given a voice and was part of the team. Jenell Atlas states, “about five years ago, the cost for running the Sheriff’s Office was $201 per household yearly. That’s little given for assurance of safety.”

At age 50, Deputy Jenell Atlas graduated from Union Institute and the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice. In 2012 Jenell Atlas was promoted to Captain under Sheriff Robert Crowder and to Major under current Sheriff William D. Snyder.

Jenell Atlas always received equal pay and she checked on this periodically to be sure. In 2014, she was in the highest paid ranking of the Office. Her numerous awards include the national Women in Communication Award; the Public Relations Society Award; PIO of the Year for the State of Florida. Deputy Atlas later became President of the Public Information Officer Society in the State of Florida.

Retirement has arrived at age 55; her greatest compliment, “she’s one of the guys.” Her advice to other women, especially single mothers:

“You can have it all. It may not look like what you think it will look like though. And, you will give something up.

I had no personal life.

Don’t give away your power.

Don’t talk in a “sing-songy voice or apologize with ‘I’m sorry but….’

I helped many other people along the way; as a role model, I walked with dignity, and I never gave up."

What has made the career of Jenell Atlas so successful?

She states, “God has been with me every step of the way.”

In 1990, Jenell Atlas exited the Salerno Road Baptist Church where she attended. Outside, volunteers were handing out laminated green cards which read, “WWJD?” Deputy Atlas took the card with her in every patrol vehicle she ever drove. She was never seriously hurt in the line of duty. Neither was she ever afraid. “I am a woman of strong faith; I knew God had His hand on me.”

HAVE A HERO TIP? Send your Hometown Hero tip to Kelly Jadon:

© 2015 "Hometown Heroes" Kelly Jadon