Monroe County Undersheriff Bill Cameron slipped quietly into the No. 2 spot with little fanfare at the end of January. Most recently the elected Sheriff in Charlotte County, he was set to retire when he got a call from newly elected Sheriff Rick Ramsay.
“He asked me if I wanted to be the Undersheriff and I said ‘Why not?’ I had planned on retiring to the Keys any way,” Cameron said on a recent afternoon in the Marathon substation.
The two have known each other for quite some time. The first time they had lunch, Cameron said, Rick Roth was still the Sheriff of Monroe County. Over the years, their paths continued to cross at various law enforcement seminars and in the Keys — especially when the Cameron family bought a home in the islands a few years ago.
Cameron’s entire career has been devoted to law enforcement. He started out as a city cop in Fort Myers before transferring his skills to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. But when the elected Sheriff of neighboring Charlotte County ran afoul of the law in 2003, Cameron was appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to finish the term.
“We had a gentleman’s agreement that I would not run for re-election when the term ended,” Cameron said. Instead, as it transpired, he became the No. 2 man to the elected Sheriff. And when that man retired, he sought office and was elected Sheriff of Charlotte County.
Working under Sheriff Ramsay feels very natural, Cameron said.
“He and I think alike,” he said. “Even when we worked in different counties we would call each other up and bounce ideas off one another.”
Cameron compares the roles of Sheriff and Undersheriff to chief executive officer and chief operating officer. Certainly, his job is pretty corporate in nature. On a typical workday he’ll hear the reports of the district commanders, handle employee evaluations (the workforce is 500 strong) and meet with a contractor regarding a construction project at the jail. He said he tailored his education for exactly this job.
“I got my associate degree in criminal justice, my bachelor’s in executive management and my master’s in business administration,” he said. “This is a $50 million ‘business.’ The three degrees really complemented each other so I have the skills to be at the top of law enforcement administration.”
One of the hallmarks of Sheriff Ramsay’s new tenure is transparency. In recent months, several officers have been arrested for breaking the law. The Sheriff’s Office immediately reported the incidents to the public via press releases. Cameron said he and Ramsay have the same philosophy when it comes to these matters.
“The best thing you can do is police your own,” he said.
He said the top three most important police policies are crime fighting, naturally, quality of life and making sure the jail is operated in accordance with the law.
“It’s important to remember that most of the people in jail have yet to be convicted; they are being detained until trial,” Cameron said. “The quality of life service is about helping the public, community service type of work, search and rescue, and things like traffic enforcement.”
Law enforcement in the Keys is different than the mainland, Cameron acknowledged. Most surprising is the isolation from other law enforcement agencies.
“You don’t have that same interaction. You’re on you own,” he said. “And although the districts have shared concerns, each area can have different priorities. What’s important on Cudjoe is not important in Marathon and what’s important in Marathon doesn’t matter to Islamorada.”
Cameron and his wife live in Marathon. They have two grown children: a daughter, 26, who is an eye doctor on the mainland and a son, 24, who works as a corrections officer in Key West. Cameron said the family loves to be on the water — fishing, sailing, or snorkeling.
“Anything water related in the Keys,” he said with a laugh. “We’ve been coming to the Keys for most of our life, about 20 years.”