Mill Creek’s Jay Romine will be honored for his 41-year career.
When 18-year-old Jay Romine landed his first full-time job as a law enforcement officer in 1979, he loaded into a car with Palmetto Police Chief Gene Hambacher and they headed to the store.
“I wasn’t old enough to buy bullets,” said Romine, who now is the director of the Manatee Technical College Law Enforcement Academy. “You had to be 21. The chief bought me three boxes of 357s.
“I was thrown into the fire.”
Forty-one years later, Mill Creek’s Romine has emerged from the fire to become a member of the Florida Law Enforcement Officers’ Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will be May 16 at the Florida State Capitol building in Tallahassee.
“I would never have thought about this as an 18-year-old … that I would someday get to this point,” said Romine, who is 59. “This is the highest honor I could get.”
While Romine was an active law enforcement officer for most of his career, he has spent the past seven years as MTC’s law enforcement director. His office walls are covered with awards he has accumulated over the years.
“It’s such a fitting tribute to a law enforcement leader who has made a measurable impact in his pursuit and advocacy of excellence within our field,” said Melanie Bevan, the Bradenton police chief. “I can’t think of an individual more deserving, or an honor more fitting. He has enriched our profession, earned the respect of his peers and is a role model to many.”
Romine’s interest in law enforcement came during his teenage years. His sister, Gina, was married to Gene Page, who would take photos of accidents that he provided to the Florida Highway Patrol. Romine would ride along with him and “I was hooked.”
On his 18th birthday (Nov. 4, 1978), Romine received a birthday present from Page, who set him up for a ride-along with a trooper. It provided him with a story he has told to every employee he hired, along with his students at MTC.
He remembered getting into the car, which was spotless, and looking at the trooper, who was wearing a spotless uniform. After they got out on State Road 70, the trooper pulled over two motorists and gave them tickets for speeding. He said the trooper was very polite and professional.
Then came a third traffic stop. The car was going faster than the first two, but the trooper only gave the driver a warning. Romine could see a baby in the back seat of the speeding motorist’s car. When the trooper returned, Romine asked him why he didn’t give the driver a ticket, like the other two.
“He said, ‘Did you see the baby?” Romine said. “He said, ‘I am sure that $25 ticket wasn’t coming out of that guy’s cigarette and beer money. It was coming out of the baby’s money. I gave the baby a break.'”
The story developed into a theme for Romine, “that just because you have a badge and a weapon, you don’t have to use it as a hammer.”
The trooper that day was Mike Rushing, who after retiring from the Florida Highway Patrol became MTC’s director of the law enforcement academy through 2012. Romine replaced him in that role.
Romine said a line of quality people help him to the hall of fame.
“None of this would happen if I didn’t have great people to work with or for.,” he said. “I had very good mayors allowed me to be active. That’s not always the case at smaller agencies.”
After working for the Palmetto Police Department from 1979-1983, Romine landed a job with the Holmes Beach Police Department. He was there through his retirement in 2013, the last 20 years as chief.
He is proud of the time he spent as president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association in 2004-2005. In 2004, Florida was hit with four major hurricanes (Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne) and Romine was instrumental in coordinating a disaster response plan between the state’s law enforcement agencies.
“What’s the worst time to figure it all out?” he asked rhetorically. “When you are being hit with it. We coordinated how we could put all our resources together, things like who has what kind of equipment. There always was a willingness to help, but I just happened to be the president when it all came together.”
He said during that same time the Florida Police Chiefs Association committed to a stronger, unformed presence in the legislature, something that still exists today.
Romine founded the Manatee County Law Enforcement Council in 1997 and while the organization was formed to help streamline hiring practices, it eventually evolved into a way to discuss issues and to set policy. Romine was the chair from 1997 to 2013. The group, which has expanded to include entities such as the FBI, the Clerk of the Courts and the Law Enforcement Academy, still meets monthly.
He was a founding member of Crime Stoppers, which pays money for tips that lead to an arrest.
Through the years, he kept his theme of not wanted to just swing a hammer.
“You are trying to get people to comply,” he said. “That’s what we are here for.”
While he had some close calls through his career, he remembers his first days serving in Palmetto, when he was sitting at a city intersection traffic light in the middle of the afternoon.
“A guy comes running around the corner with a bandana around his face,” he said with a laugh. “That was a clue.”
The man had just robbed a licensing bureau with a gun.
The two of them looked at each, and the robber ran, too fast for Romine to keep up.
Why the armed robber didn’t shoot, Romine never will know. Bulletproof vests were option at that time and Romine wasn’t wearing one. It was the type of moment that causes some law enforcement officers to revaluate their choice of professions.
Romine never wavered through.
“There is no doubt law enforcement officers are wired different,” he said. “I want the rush. I want the excitement. I want a different challenge every day.
“I knew it was all I ever wanted to do.”