Thomas Knight was placed as the president and chief executive officer of First Step of Sarasota, a nonprofit agency that has provided addiction recovery programs since 1967; in 2019, First Step and Coastal Behavioral Healthcare, Inc. announced a strategic unification, creating the largest nonprofit behavioral healthcare agency in Sarasota County, Florida. In his role, Tom will plan and execute all aspects of First Step's operations, with responsibility for its overall effectiveness, and will maximize external relationships with government, partner organizations, foundations, funding sources, professional groups, and the community at large, serving as the visible spokesperson for the agency.
Tom comes to First Step from a 12-year career as the sheriff of Sarasota County. During his tenure, Tom modernized the Sheriff's Office and addressed issues of jail overcrowding, employee morale, budget constraints, and rising crime rates. As a result of his strategic acumen, he was able to lead the Office to become one of the first agencies in the nation to adopt intelligence-led policing, which enabled both a decrease in manpower as well as a nearly 50% decrease in the county's total crime index. Tom also created the first jail-based addiction recovery pods in the southeastern U.S., recognizing that a significant percentage of recidivism was attributable to substance use, and the ordinances he helped pass to address the opioid crisis became a model for the state. Through implementing a new organizational and reporting structure, objective hiring and promotional standards, employee recognition programs, and increased diversity, Tom was able to achieve one of the highest employee retention rates of any sheriff's office in Florida. He also initiated a public information unit to engage the community and a "rightful policing" culture focused on procedural justice and fairness of police conduct.
Tom has had the opportunity to work with a number of different nonprofits, and has devoted particular attention to the Venice-area YMCA, where he sat on the board for ten years and served as chair for a two-year term, as well as serving as interim CEO in 2019.
After earning his bachelor's degree in criminology from Florida State University, Tom initially joined the Sarasota Police Department. He then spent 20 years with the Florida Highway Patrol, progressing from trooper to sergeant to lieutenant, and ultimately to major, leading the second-largest troop in Florida.
Tom also holds a master's degree in public administration from the University of South Florida. As a passionate community advocate, he has received numerous awards for his work in the interest of substance abuse and mental health recovery and child welfare, in particular. He and his wife are the parents of two grown daughters and enjoy spending time on the water and interacting in the community.