[PHOTO CREDITS: Bonnie Whicher]
(This Article was First Published in LLN in August, 2013 — Issue No. 15.)
Filling the shoes of the United States’ longest-serving acting police chief would certainly be no easy feat—and making one’s own footprint would take a special kind of person. Highly regarded as the exact right person for the job, Mark Palmer accepted the challenge.
Palmer took over the reins in Groveland, Florida, last year after Chief Tommy Merrill retired and gave up the title of America’s longest-serving acting police chief, for which Merrill was honored in 2006 by the Florida Peace Officers Association. And Merrill wasn’t the only one that hung around—most of Groveland’s officers have been there many years, Palmer explains to Lake Legal News. Unexpectedly, however Palmer’s last day as chief came on August 14, 2013 after only seven months on the job. He joins several other city employees who have jumped ship recently, including Groveland’s utilities superintendent Robert Holland and public-works manager Jeff Jones. “It was time for me to separate from the city of Groveland because I don’t believe in the political culture. I don’t agree with how a few of the city council members operate,” Palmer candidly revealed to Lake Legal News, shortly before this article went to press.
Beginning his career in 1978 in Tavares under the direction of the late Chief Paul Frost, Palmer says Frost’s influence changed his life and he will always be grateful to him. In 1981, Palmer joined the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. Palmer has served in many different facets of law enforcement, including narcotics, investigations and road patrol to name a few and he worked his way through the ranks from deputy to major. “Sheriff [Noel] Griffin took a gamble on a 22-year-old kid,” Palmer says.
During his career at LCSO, Palmer was a team leader on the first official S.W.A.T. team, served as major over Special Operations (which includes all high liability areas) and Director at the Institute of Public Safety, which houses the law enforcement academy. He had the opportunity to participate in the first joint narcotics task force between LCSO and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The networking opportunities were immeasurable, according to Palmer. “It opened a lot of doors for me.” Task forces like that are vital in Florida, Palmer notes.
Additionally, Palmer is a graduate of the FBI Academy and the Southern Police Institute in Louisville, Kentucky—and he was fortunate, since most people don’t get to do both. “[The late] Chris Daniels and I were the lucky ones,” Palmer observes, “we got to do both.”
Not long ago, Palmer had the opportunity to see a long-ago good deed come back to him. A man in is 30’s approached Palmer recently in a gas station and thanked him for giving him $5 to fix his bike — 25 years ago. “That was as good as getting a letter from the governor,” Palmer relates. “It sure made me feel good about what I try to do in my career.” And civilians aren’t the only people Palmer has made an impact on. Eustis Police Deputy Chief R.A. Robinson credits Palmer with influencing him to choose law enforcement as a career. Robinson had just been turned down for a job he really wanted and on the long drive back he happened to run into Palmer, who gave him a pep talk and convinced him to take the leap into law enforcement. “Mark’s a great guy,” Robinson says emphatically.
Palmer, 55, has been married to his wife since 1989 and they have two daughters and a son. All three have pursued a college education and Palmer couldn’t be more proud of them. “I’m as blessed as blessed can be.” Of course, having a wonderful family can make it that much more difficult dealing with emotional cases, like that of 6-year-old Kayla McKean, who was beaten to death by her father in 1998. Palmer had to learn how to ‘separate it’ and leave work at work when he went home.
Palmer said he believes being a part of different divisions and experiencing a wide range of cases prepared him for the position of Groveland’s chief, a responsibility which involves serving a community “with pride and dignity” and a commitment to being fully “involved,” Palmer explains.
Groveland, in the south end of Lake County, encompasses 27 square miles and is home to 9,000 residents. One of the first things Palmer did after taking over the police force was to create a formal Mission Statement for the department. He asked for input from employees and with their assistance created something the department can be very proud of. He thinks it extremely important for officers to know their mission and what they stand for. Regrettably, Palmer says, it was brought to his attention that Mayor Jim Gearhart did not want Palmer to pursue accreditation for the 23-person police department; something Palmer thinks is important if not critical to a law enforcement agency. (Accreditation is a peer-review program aimed at creating standards in law enforcement policies and procedures.)
We, the members of the Groveland Police Department are committed to excellence in law enforcement. We are dedicated to our people, traditions and diversity of our ever-changing and growing city. Our priority is to safeguard lives, property and prevent crime. In doing so, we will enforce the law efficiently and impartially in a professional manner while displaying integrity, compassion and respect to all.Mission Statement
Palmer is looking forward to the future. He is now employed as an account manager with Southern Software, a company that specializes in public safety software (such as Computer Aided Dispatch or CAD). He sums up his stint as Groveland’s police chief by saying, “Even though my time here was brief, I enjoyed it. I love police work and what it represents.”
Our Editor-in-Chief, Marilyn M. Aciego, began writing for Lake Legal News in 2010. In addition, she has made more than two dozen appearances on live national television, including Nancy Grace and the Greta Van Susteren show, along with her appearance on Evil Twins. Contact her with breaking news, tips, and feedback by sending an e-mail to 352Tips@gmail.com. You can also contact us on our Facebook page — and make sure you “Like” and “Follow us” there. [PHOTO CREDIT: Bonnie Whicher]