OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – It was a win on Election night for Democrat Marco López who defeated his no-party-affiliation challenger, Luis “Tony” Fernandez with 67.2% of the vote to become Osceola County’s new sheriff.
“It wasn’t easy you know, a lot of people said I was the underdog,” said López, who made history becoming Osceola County’s first Hispanic sheriff elect.
“I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and say: ‘Hey, I’m gonna make history today’,” López said the morning after Election Night. “This opportunity to do something better for all people in our community came to me and I took with it and ran with it but never thinking, I’m gonna be the first Puerto Rican Sheriff or Hispanic Sheriff.”
Luis "Tony" Fernandez
(95 / 95)
Born in Chicago to Puerto Rican parents López moved to Central Florida 41 years ago. The 51-year-old said he seized the opportunity to run for sheriff after more than 16 years of service with the agency and after some challenging experiences.
“In 2016, I started pushing diversity, let’s start hiring more bilingual officers and I got a little scrutinized for that. I was a sergeant. They said it was criticism of the department. I got demoted but I kept fighting,” he said.
With a victory under his belt, López replaces Russ Gibson who has served Osceola County as sheriff since January 2017. López said he hopes to transition into office soon so he can start making changes.
“We’re gonna create a community advisory review board to make sure that we have that transparency effect and so, the community can understand the way we operate the way we function,” he said. “We’ll also create mental health and de-escalation training for the police officers and our dispatchers and our employees. We need to do something for them to help them calm down that stress to avoid a potential police brutality type incident or any police misconduct.”
López also wants to create a veteran’s liaison unit and work with other organizations to help veterans readjust back into the community.
Among his agenda is making the agency’s workforce more diverse.
“There’s a lot of good qualified people out there to do these jobs, you know, we just gotta give them the steppingstones and the tools to succeed,” he said.
When asked how he plans to bridge the gap and improve the relationships between law enforcement and communities across Osceola County, López said it’s time for deputies to get to know the community they serve not just by patrolling the streets in their vehicles.
“We need more citizen contact one on one. Not only with our community services department but with our law enforcement officers. Let’s go into the neighborhoods when there’s no crime instead of going and park under a tree or driving in circles somewhere else,” he said, adding “I think we start talking to people at a younger level, I think will leave a positive impact on their lives so they can really start trusting us a little bit more.”
As for his message to those who didn’t support him, López hopes they’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
“The people who didn’t vote for me, you know, give me an opportunity to win your trust. We’re here for everybody, we’re not just here for the Latinos. We’re here for every citizen in Osceola County.”