HOLMES BEACH – “This is me. It’s my decision and no one else’s,” Police Chief Jay Romine said of his announcement that he would retire this month. “When it’s time, you know, and it’s time. I’ve had a good run, and I’ve been blessed.”
Romine gave his notice Friday to Mayor Carmel Monti and told his staff at their annual holiday party Friday evening because he wanted all of them to hear it from him at the same time.
“When Pat (Mayor Pat Geyer) appointed me to this position, I was the 33 and the youngest police chief in the state of Florida,” Romine recalled. “We had issues inside and outside the department, and she said simply, “Fix this.
“She wanted me to clean up the department, and she said simply, “Fix this.
“She wanted me to clean up the department, build bridges and rebuild relationships. I think I accomplished that, and I’ve been fortunate to have a group of long-term, dedicated employees who do a great job.”
Former Mayor Rich Bohnenberger, who, during his terms as mayor and commissioner, has worked closely with Romine, said: “Jay has been a wonderful chief. He is one of the best-trained, well-respected chiefs in the state. We have an excellent department, and we can thank Jay for that. He is also a good friend and I’ll miss him.”
Amy Mercer, executive director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, said, “It’s a huge loss to the profession and the law enforcement community. He has been a mainstay for years and is held up as an icon throughout the state.
“He’s one of those individuals who truly cares about bettering law enforcement for the state. I commend him so much for that.”
Romine recalled how, asa teen, he wanted to be in the highway patrol, and one had to be 18 years old in order to ride along with a trooper.
“At 4 p.m. on my 18th birthday, I was sitting in Mike Rushing’s highway patrol vehicle on a ride along,” he said. “We were running radar on State Road 70.”
He said Rushing stopped two speeders and gave them tickets, but when he stopped a third one, who was speeding faster than the first two, he gave him a warning.
When asked why, Rushing said, “There was a toddler in the back seat with a diaper, but no shirt and no shoes. I could have written him a $25 ticket, but the money would not have come out of his cigarette and beer money. It would have come out of the baby’s money. If I can do something that benefits somebody, and it’s the right thing to do, I’ll do it.”
“That has been the basis of my policing philosophy since then,” Romine said.
Rushing, now director of the Law Enforcement Academy at MTI, laughed when recalling the story of the young Romine riding along and said, “We go back a few years. He’s an honorable, ethical guy who has given a lot to public service and the people of the state.”
At 18, Romine was sponsored to the police academy by Holmes Beach Police Chief Tom Shanafelt and at 19 was an auxiliary office for the department. His first job as a patrol officer was with the city of Palmetto and then several months later, Shanafelt hired him. He moved up from patrol officer to sergeant, to detective sergeant to lieutenant to chief in 12 years.
“I remember the first person I ever arrested – a prostitute from Tampa,” Romine recalled. “There was a domestic disturbance when her husband found out what she was doing.
“I was a young rookie, a boy from the South raised with good manners. One lesson was you never put your hands on a female, but I learned quickly that wasn’t always the case when she slapped me upside the head.”
Through the years, Romine has served on numerous state and local law enforcement associations and boards such as the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the International Association of Police ChiefS, Tampa Bay Chiefs of Police Association and Manatee Technical Institute Criminal Justice Advisory Board and Board of Governors.
One that he is particularly proud of is the Manatee County Law Enforcement Council, which he founded in 1997 and has been the chair of since then.
“The idea was that we didn’t communicate enough, and I felt we needed to sit down and talk about common problems and share solutions,” he explained. “It’s a terrific group to work with, and people are fortunate to benefit from those relationships.”
In addition, in 2002, he was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush to serve a four-year term as one of three police chiefs in the state on the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission. He was reappointed in 2006 by Bush and appointed again by Governor Rick Scott in 2012 and has served as chair and vice chair of the board.
Among his awards are the Presidents’ Award by the Florida Police Chiefs Association in 2011, 2002 and 2000 and by the Tampa Bay Chiefs of Police Association in 2009, 2003 and 2002.
He also has been involved in the county’s Crime Stoppers, Gold Star Club and One Hundred Club He is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Bradenton.
Romine said his biggest disappointment is that the department never solved the Kingfish ramp slayings in 1980, when a doctor and his two sons were shot in their vehicle and a bystander was slain in the Island Foods (now Publix) parking lot.
Looking to the future
“Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very good people – mayors who were confident enough to let me do my job and run the department,” he said. “I’ve had good relationships with all of them.
“I’m proud of my people and that they care about their jobs and the city. I’m proud that we did what Pat asked us to do. We are known all over the state for our professionalism, and I’m proud of the relationships we have with other law enforcement agencies.
“My hope is that the department continues to police like we do now – there’s nothing wrong with compassion in law enforcement. I always felt the badge carries a huge amount of responsibility and just because you have authority doesn’t mean you have to wield it all the time.”
He said leaving is bittersweet because “we are like family here in the department. I’m going to take some time to catch my breath. I feel I still have something to offer. A door will open. It might be a challenge to try something else.”