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2012 Campaign Season Ends With New Sheriff Feb. 2013 Wakulla Times

FEBRUARY 2013 WAKULLA TIMES ARTICLE
2012 CAMPAIGN SEASON ENDS WITH A NEW SHERIFF IN WAKULLA COUNTY
By Charlie Creel
Sheriff, Wakulla County

Thank you to everyone who voted for me as your new sheriff last year. I also want to thank those individuals who did not vote for me but who have kept an open mind about my ability to provide Wakulla County with the leadership to provide a top notch sheriff’s office.

The 2012 election campaign season actually began for me during the spring of 2011. When you are campaigning for a major office you must give yourself enough time to meet many of the people of Wakulla County. The campaign was long and challenging, but in the end anything that is worthwhile to achieve is going to require a great deal of work.

While the campaign to win the Office of Sheriff was successful, it created a very long and tiring road to victory. As the early voting, absentee voting and Nov. 6 General Election concluded, it was time for a break for both me and my opponent, Maurice Langston.

I took a few days off after the election to catch my breath and rest a little. At the sheriff’s office it was a time for reflection and a call for unity. Within a few short days of the election the transition began for Jan. 8 when I was sworn in as Wakulla County’s newest sheriff.

I was one of the fortunate sheriffs in Florida who was offered an opportunity to get a head start on my career by retiring Sheriff Donnie Crum. I appreciated his offer and gladly accepted the opportunity to work in the office part-time as I got to know the staff and the operations of the law enforcement, jail activities, E-911, Emergency Management, Communications and court security.

There were 15 new sheriffs either returning to office again after being out of office or completely new sheriffs that took office in January. A small number of them were not given an opportunity to come into the office before the swearing in ceremony.

Happily, Wakulla County was not one of those counties where new sheriffs had to wait until their first day to begin the transition. Both Sheriff Crum and I sat down and discussed many aspects of the operation in November to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone. We both felt this was important to the community and to the men and women who work at the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office.

Donnie and I had the best interests of the community in mind when we agreed to work together and continue to provide the best law enforcement for the citizens of the county. Our quality of life was at stake and we refused to allow politics to stand in the way of doing the right thing. I felt badly for those sheriffs who were not allowed into the office until Jan. 8.

I feel great about the transition as it went even better than I thought it would. With the transition under control, I was able to turn my thoughts to staffing and making children a focus of my initiatives. I have a vision as your new sheriff. The vision includes many things I heard from citizens on the campaign trail that people wanted instituted.

With the December school shooting in Connecticut having an impact at school centers all across the United States, the sheriff’s office posted additional security at the four elementary schools in December. The WCSO administration and the school district administration wanted to make students and parents feel better about their child’s safety in the final days before the Christmas break. The law enforcement presence at the schools was well received by members of the community. I would love to be able to put School Resource Officers at all of the schools, but that is a financial burden the WCSO and school district may not be able to afford at the present time.

The sheriff’s office was happy to lend a hand at a time when students and parents were feeling pretty vulnerable. We will continue to address school security with district administrators in the coming weeks and months. It is all about the kids.

We will be targeting youths in the county in the coming months through a Teen Driving Challenge and Distracted Driving Program, as well as helping our citizens through Neighborhood Watch programs, Business Watch, academic summer camps to target and assist at-risk students while expanding the civil citation program to reduce the number of young people in the court system. We hope to address at-risk youths at Disc Village, Sopchoppy Education Center and those youths already on probation. We also plan to conduct outdoor activities and an open gymnasium for youths.

There are some outstanding female guidance counselors within our school system but I would like to include at least one male counselor within the disciplinary office of Wakulla High School with the School Resource Officer. Female counselors do a great job, but male counselors can serve as role models for male students just as School Resource Officers do. The students need to feel comfortable with law enforcement officers and realize that they are role models and not the boogieman. We are the good guys!

During the transitional period, I named Lt. Trey Morrison as the Undersheriff. Major Shepard Bruner will continue to be the Major over law enforcement and I will use the expertise of my Public Information Officer Keith Blackmar to continue to communicate with the public and media. We will continue to provide open and transparent law enforcement and assist the public in any way we can. I know he is a top notch spokesman and journalist. We will continue to address public records requests and answer the many telephone questions we receive on a regular basis.

We will also continue to embrace technology and make full use of our web site and social media platforms which have proven to be popular within the community and reach far across the country and world.

Undersheriff Morrison and I attended the Florida Sheriff’s Association New Sheriffs Training Week in December. It could easily have lasted for two weeks as there was tons of information shared with the incoming sheriffs. We will also be attending the FSA Mid-Winter Conference shortly before this article is published to meet and talk to other sheriff’s around Florida.

I was surprised and pleased with the way the WCSO staff opened their arms the way they did when I arrived. They brought things to me and the transition could not have been any smoother. Politics aside, we need to heal the community and get together as one. We all have got to live here.

I know Undersheriff Morrison felt the same way about the transition. He thanked Sheriff Crum for the opportunity to come in and allow for a slow transition that was not a shock to anybody’s system. We will make gradual and selective changes so we don’t make mistakes by acting too quickly.

I would like to establish a partnership with NAMI and have access to mental health experts. I also want to keep the WCSO Range open to the public. We want to have a first class operation there. There are now 12 law enforcement agencies that use the Range and we have been approached by federal agencies who want to use it as well.

I have met with Armor about their role in the Wakulla County Jail. Armor provides health services for our inmates and detainees and they will remain an important part of our operation. The Undersheriff and I are still examining our options with the jail operation and have not made any final decisions on how we want to operate the facility.

Technically, the Wakulla County Jail is under the Wakulla County Commission. The WCSO and county commission have an agreement in place where the sheriff operates the facility.
I would like to reinstitute the Citizens Academy for members of the community to learn about the sheriff’s office operation. Perhaps we will offer a refresher course for those individuals who were part of the academy in the past.

I am hoping to build up our volunteer program and those volunteers help the sheriff’s office put on two events each year, the summer Kids Fishing Tournament and the December Christmas in the Park with Santa Claus.

Public Service Officers and Reserve Deputies are part of our strong volunteer base and we hope to expand those programs. We want to offer fingerprinting of children to parents as a safeguard in case the child ever ends up getting lost.

We have more than one traffic crash a day on average to investigate and we plan to crack down on DUIs and help educate younger drivers. Many of the more than 400 traffic crashes investigated in 2012 involved young inexperienced drivers.

We hope to be able to reduce the number of crashes involving our young people which, in turn, will reduce the number of fatalities that are investigated on our roads. Losing one of our teenagers while driving or having one teenager injured is one too many. We feel education is a way to attack the problem as we provide classroom and practical driving experience using the teen driving course. The SIDNE impaired driving cart and the WCSO electrical car can be used to stress the importance of not driving while being impaired or distracted. Students will enjoy the learning experiences and hopefully they will take some of what they have learned into their daily lives.

We know that driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol can result in tragic consequences, but we also know that young drivers who are distracted by passengers in their vehicle or texting friends can create tragedy as well. Our staff has spent many hours re-enforcing the importance of wearing a seat belt to young drivers at the high school. We observe the students leaving the parking area to make sure they wear their seat belts and provide an extra element of safety on the roads. We hope to eliminate some of the dangers that young people face before a tragedy occurs.

We want to expand our relationships with the Wakulla County Firefighters and Emergency Medical Service staff. We have already begun hosting a periodic luncheon where firefighters, EMS staff and our staff enjoy hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch in our facility. We want to continue to foster a spirit of cooperation between all of the public safety operations.

You can see I hit the ground running after being elected as your Wakulla County Sheriff last year. I welcome your comments and suggestions as we work to reduce the crime rate in the county and make Wakulla an even better place to live.

When I retired from the Florida Highway Patrol in 2006, I could have gone anywhere in the world to live but I chose to stay in Wakulla County because of the quality of life I had enjoyed here for more than a decade with my family, friends and neighbors. This is my home and with the cooperation of the many fine citizens we have living here, we will continue to make our county the best place to live in the State of Florida.

 

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