Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco did what he could Wednesday morning to put people at ease inside Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School's auditorium.
He joked that he didn't want to see anyone uptight and said not to worry about kids running around because they were among family.
Before a sheriff's office recognition ceremony, Nocco had stood in front of 6th Circuit Court Judge Pat Siracusa and took his oath as sheriff. Following his swearing in, six new deputies took their oaths, and a host of others received honors.
Nocco's actual oath had taken place two weeks prior, so this was a symbolic gesture.
"One of the things (executive assistant) Terry Phayre brought up to me is no sheriff has ever been sworn in with the members," Nocco told the crowd of deputies and family and friends of those being sworn in or recognized.
"We had a swearing-in ceremony previously to make sure by law I was still allowed to be here, but symbolically, I wanted to do this only because we swear everybody in all the time and I want you all to realize, and you keep hearing it, I'm one of you. There's nothing different from what I do than what you do. If something bad breaks loose, I'm going to be there right with you."
In addition to certifying the new deputies, 22 civilian members were welcomed to the sheriff's office, five deputies received promotions, two retirees were honored, three were recognized for serving 20 years or more, and many others were given awards.
The citizen award was given to Denise Szulis, the founder of Save Pasco and volunteer with the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, or ASAP. She received the Citizen Service Award.
"I want you guys to know that as citizens of this county we are living with you, working with you, supporting you all the time," Szulis said. "We're there, 100 percent behind you. Those people (who) go out and serve, especially you new recruits, remember these people are not bad, they're broken. They're broken people living in a broken society and we are the stewards of broken. It takes a village to raise a child, and we're the village."
Her group has worked with the county's narcotics detectives, providing information that has led to the arrest of store owners who have sold synthetic drugs, or Spice, to underage buyers. The group also protested in front of businesses that sell synthetic drugs.
"That's one of those things when there's such a problem in the community, for someone to keep ringing the bell saying 'There's a problem, there's a problem, kids are dying out there.' It's unbelievable the leadership that she took out there," Nocco said. "She kept pushing and saying, 'No, there's an issue. You've got to take care of it.' "