Sarasota sheriff putting lessons learned about addiction, mental health to good use in retirement

Sheriff Tom Knight's philosophy has remained the same. You can't arrest your way out of a problem.

"We can do things [to be] proactive and preventative," he said.

With a career spanning more than three decades, Knight is getting ready to retire. But his work to help people with addiction and mental health issues will continue.

Days after he retires as Sarasota County sheriff in January, he'll join First Step of Sarasota as president and CEO.

"I can bring that attitude to first step so we can give better services and better services and make sure we make people healthy and they don’t go into the prison system," he told FOX 13.

34 years in law enforcement has opened Sheriff Knight's eyes to addiction and mental health issues.

After creating 54 programs inside the jail focused on recovery, his agency saw arrests drop 50% and the closing of a revolving door for some.

"My hopes with going to first step is to get that understand we can triage a situation before 911 is called," said Sheriff Knight.

First Step's board chief and Sarasota Police Department deputy chief, Pat Robinson sees Knight's experience as key.

"He's seen what works and what doesn’t work in our community when it comes to substance abuse and mental health issues," he said.

Combining law enforcement experience with mental health to work for a solution, instead of responding too late.

"It lets the behavioral health side of the equation understand what law enforcement sees. They think it’s very easy just to go out and send caseworkers out to talk to people and go to these calls for service, my answer is no it isn’t that’s going to be tragedy set up in the future," said Sheriff Knight.

Sheriff Tom Knight is ready to start his new future, as he continues to help the community he's served for years.

"I want to use clinical technicians, to go out and find these individuals who have been calling 911 for help and give them a road map to success rather than waiting to call 911 and tragedy happens when a cop shows up," he said.