Eliseo-Santana-Sheriff-Candidate Eliseo Santana was the first Hispanic to be hired as a technician at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in 1981.
Image courtesy of Eliseo Santana

The Latino professional wants to bring equity to the Sheriff’s Office, where he worked for 31 years.

Eliseo Santana says “it’s about time” for professional Hispanics to enjoy the opportunity to serve as leaders in their fields.

Although his electronic engineering studies make him a highly qualified professional, he says he encountered obstacles along the way because he was Puerto Rican.

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“I have a bachelor’s degree, licenses, and all these credentials,” Santana told The Americano. “I was recognized nationwide, not just in Florida, for my knowledge of technology.” 

The technologists retired eight years ago from a position in the technology department within the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. His desire to bring forth changes to the state government agency led him to run as a Democratic candidate for the sheriff’s chair.

“I want everyone to have equal opportunity. I’m the first Hispanic in the county running for sheriff. Officials here have always been white and Republican,” said the candidate, who worked in the Sheriff’s Office for 31 years.

Born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, Santana enrolled in the military in 1976, where he says he discovered a passion for technology. Upon finishing his military service in 1980, he completed a Master of Business Administration at Schiller International University, a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration at Tampa College, and an associate degree in electronic technology at the United Electronics Institute. He also received a federal license as a radio and television engineer. 

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He began to work in the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in 1981. 

“In over 100 years of history, I was the first Hispanic and person of color to be hired as a technician to work for them,” Santana said. “They didn’t want to hire me; they had to because I got the highest score. Throughout my whole career, I was in an agency that has what is called systemic racism.”

Ten years after first being hired, there was a vacancy for a supervisor position in the technology department. Santana applied for it but was not chosen for the job.

“They gave the position to an assistant. He was white, blond, and blue-eyed, just like them,” Santana remembered. “They gave him the position instead of me. I filed a complaint. I think [the situation] was so evident that they reversed their decision and gave me the job.” 

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From his position as communications maintenance supervisor, Santana says he continued to see injustice. “There were 32 supervisors in the agency, and only three are people of color.”

In 2012, the electronic tech expert retired. During his last years as a supervisor, current Sheriff Bob Gualtieri came into office. Both men are now contending for the Pinellas sheriff’s chair. 

“I had to leave because he said no to everything I was doing to make things better, to bring the community together,” Santana explained. “My last two years determined that I could no longer work in that environment.” 

The technologists say he proposed having cameras installed within uniforms in order to protect both the community and its law enforcement officers, but Gualtieri rejected the idea.

Santana says it is important for officials to be adequately trained so they know how to handle different situations—especially now, with the pandemic, where people are affected mentally and physically because of the lockdown and economic situation.

“I stand for body cameras and for stopping the militarization of the police,” Santana said. “Training the officer to de-escalate—when they get to a situation, not raise it to a point where they have to arrest, but instead seeing if there is a problem that can be resolved without arrest.”

The candidate also believes in the people’s right to protest peacefully. 

“I will defend the right to go out and protest,” Santana said. “I’ve gone to the streets and peacefully protested. But I will not tolerate somebody breaking the law, committing a crime.” 

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The candidate said Pinellas County is a decisive area of Florida, the largest swing state. He said he has seen an increase in Democrats as the election nears. 

“Now [the county is] shifting to Democrat; it’s becoming more blue,” Santana said. “With President Trump being as anti-immigration, anti-Hispanic, and anti-minorities as he is, a lot of people are registering and want to vote Democrat. We expect this county to turn Democrat in this election.”