By Jay Meisel
ST. LUCIE COUNTY - When Mike Monahan began working for the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office, deputies worked without cell phones or computers in their vehicles.
The St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office and the jail were in downtown Fort Pierce.
Nearly 37 years after starting as a deputy in November 1975, he retired as a major last week, although officially his retirement begins in late September.
Maj. Monahan described himself as a "rags to riches kid."
When he started his career, which involved working under three sheriffs, he said, "I didn't know anything about being a cop."
"I leave basically running all the (law enforcement) operations," Maj. Monahan said.
St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara praised Maj. Monahan's work for the sheriff's office.
"He's been a great asset to the sheriff's office," he said.
Sheriff Mascara said that Maj. Monahan's historical knowledge of the office by itself has helped.
He also said Maj. Monahan was instrumental in the office providing services following the hurricanes of 2004 and in mobilizing response to the murder of a family near Florida's Turnpike in 2006.
That was a long way from when Maj. Monahan started his career at the jail, which was then a narrow four-story building near the current location of the public defender's office.
The sheriff's office was housed within the jail, but divisions of it were located in scattered locations in the Fort Pierce area, he said.
Detectives were on Depot Drive, narcotics officers were at the St. Lucie County International Airport and the road patrol was stationed on Edwards Road, he said.
"We were all over the place," he said.
Later the sheriff's office was housed in what is now a business location in the downtown, before moving to Midway Road in the 1990s.
At the time when Maj. Monahan started in the 1990s, the jail's staff per shift included three jailers and a matron who dealt with an average of 150 inmates.
Thirty-five years later, the jail, which is on Rock Road, houses more than 1,100 inmates typically and more than 50 people are on duty each shift, he said.
Within several years of starting work at the old jail, Maj. Monahan became a road deputy.
"Pretty much, if you were a new deputy, you were assigned to Port St. Lucie," he said. "Port St. Lucie hardly existed in those days."
Some homes existed in the Prima Vista Road near U.S. 1, he said, adding that the area south was largely undeveloped until you reached the area near Club Med, he said.
Development west of Florida's Turnpike was scattered, he said.
Port St. Lucie was incorporated, but did not have its own police department until 1981, he said.
The city contracted with the sheriff's office and deputies drove cars with the name Port St. Lucie Police Department on them, he said.
Ironically, the biggest crime during that period was in the least populated areas of Port St. Lucie, he said.
The developed roads in areas with no homes served as secure landing strips for criminals smuggling huge shipments of drugs, he said.
He said he worked in narcotics for 10 years following patrolling Port St. Lucie and was involved in big busts of criminals carrying in shipments of drugs to isolated areas of Port St. Lucie.
But during that period, drug smuggling was a big problem throughout the county, he said.
Shipments of drugs would arrive by plane, boat, vehicle and wash up on the beaches, he said.
Airplanes transporting drugs would land not only in Port St. Lucie, but also west of Fort Pierce, including on Orange Avenue, Maj. Monahan said.
After working in narcotics for 10 years, he worked as a detective and then started rising in the ranks, becoming sergeant, captain and then major.
Law enforcement today in many ways is like that of when he started, he said.
"A lot of the work is the same, but is much more technologically advanced," he said.
Computers have replaced typewriters and cell phones offer an alternative source of communication to radios and walkie-talkies, he said.
When he started deputies wrote reports on paper, he said.
Now they print out reports, he said.
They used to carry .38-caliber revolvers; now they have semi-automatic weapons, he added.
"There's also a lot more training than there ever was," Maj. Monahan said.
Officers used to go through the law enforcement academy and that may have been their only training, he said.
Now, they receive continuous training throughout their careers, Maj. Monahan said.
Another change is that in the past most people never called law enforcement in a lot of cases involving family or neighbor disputes, he said.
Now, they do and officers must handle social problems, he said.
As his career came to an end, Maj. Monahan dealt with shrinking resources because of the economic downturn.
But, he said, everyone at the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office picked up the slack and maintained good law enforcement.
"They've all carried a bigger load and that's what made it possible," he said.