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Community Oriented Policing Services- Wakulla Times June 2013

COMMUNITY ORIENTED POLICING SERVICES (COPS) GRANT PROVIDES A VARIETY OF IMPACTS IN WAKULLA COUNTY

BY CHARLIE CREEL
SHERIFF, WAKULLA COUNTY

We have had some exciting programs going on at the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office in recent months and I want to discuss one that is near and dear to my heart. The program is the 2012 Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant through the United States Department of Justice. This grant was approved by the Wakulla County Commission in August 2012 and is valued at $500,274 over three years which includes a $50,000 cash match over the same three year period.

The COPS Hiring Program grant provides funding directly to law enforcement agencies to hire career law enforcement officers in an effort to increase their community policing capacity and crime prevention efforts.
There were 1,411 law enforcement agencies throughout the nation that applied for the grant and 221 agencies were successful in their grant application, Wakulla being one of the 221. Wakulla County was one of only seven counties in Florida to earn this grant award. Applicants were scored based on fiscal need and crime rates.

Wakulla County has vibrant youths and people succeeding but we must address the smaller percentage of problems that we are encountering with our children. There are heartwarming stories involving our staff and at-risk youth where the youths are succeeding. But some of our youths are involved in criminal activity and witness domestic violence at home. In some cases the youths are being raised by grandparents or guardians and come from broken homes.

The WCSO is targeting children we feel we can keep out of the judicial system and we are looking for ways to help families in crisis.
In the grant application, the WCSO looked at community policing activities such as addressing the issue of children being exposed to violence. Domestic violence, bullying, Internet violence and Internet bullying were addressed in an effort to view areas of potential impact to youth in our community.

Since the grant is based on a three year period, funding for law enforcement will be $150,091 annually for the three years and the county match is $16,667 annually for the same three year period.
Wakulla County Commissioners ratified the grant a few months before the election and the WCSO staff assigned to the grant hit the ground running when I took office in January 2013.

We have named the COPS Grant the Youth and Community Services Unit. Lt. Bruce Ashley supervises the unit which is composed of Crime Analyst Angie Gardner, Sgt. Billy Jones and Detective Rob Giddens. The staff at our annex office works closely with our four school resource officers, Deputies Scott Rojas, Evelyn Brown, Joe Page and Sgt. Ray Johnson, as well as the other divisions of the office, road patrol, criminal investigations, special operations and detention. The coordination of effort includes the ability to connect to any offense, case, investigation or event that involves our youths.

Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for the citizens and youth of Wakulla County by reducing both crime and the fear of crime throughout Wakulla County. We want our staff to reach beyond the role of proactive law enforcement and become coactive with our citizens and youths. We feel this action will allow us to improve the quality of life for everyone.

We have started to investigate all juvenile related crimes from a data standpoint in an effort to discover juveniles who are exposed to crime and violence. We are analyzing all juvenile related crime data and enhancing our school security through our partnership with the Wakulla County School District. Our law enforcement officers are meeting with bus drivers to discuss narcotics to make them more aware of terminology and street drug trends as well as Spice. We are building a relationship with our students by meeting them at their bus stops and trying to get to know them and help them realize that law enforcement is there to help them not just arrest them. We feel this will lead to better intervention and ultimately crime prevention.

Some of our programs have been around for some time and are familiar to you while others are new and different. We continue to work on Internet safety and social network education and we are planning a teen driving and distracted driving challenge during the summer months. We will also be active with youth bicycle safety; child safety education; a children’s fingerprint identification program; the Sheriff’s Youth Ranch; Substance Abuse Violence Education (SAVE); McGruff the Crime Dog’s “Take a Bite out of Crime Campaign”; and the Sheriff’s Youth Explorer Program.

The sheriff’s office staff has also worked with youth in school Jail and Bail programs; Family Fun Day; and has reached out to our youths at special events and festivals.
The COPS Program has been assigned 25 juvenile cases, not including civil citation and probation, since Feb. 1. Another 16 juvenile cases were closed and nearly 300 school security checks and school bus stop checks were conducted. The Civil Citation Program has 21 youths in it and there are currently 23 youths enrolled in probation.

During the early portion of the year the WCSO has attended and set up the law enforcement static display at the Valentine’s Day celebration; African American heritage festival; St. Patrick’s Day festival; Riversink Elementary School Festival; Wakulla Education Center Fun Day; Crawfordville Elementary School Springtime Festival; Jackson Hewitt Youth Safety Day; and the Special Olympic Games and Law Enforcement Torch Run.
Community interactions included Boy Scout and Girl Scout jail tours; the NJROTC Golf Tournament; Wakulla High School Senior Breakfast and Neighborhood Watch meetings. We are also in the planning stages to take part in events like the Relay For Life; Blue Crab Festival; Fourth of July Festival; Kids Fishing Tournament; and Project Graduation.

We are pleased to be able to reach families during events such as the 2013 Safety Day. The WCSO worked with Jackson Hewitt and gave away 85 child safety identi-kits and 27 safety books at Wal-Mart and at the Jackson Hewitt office.

The sheriff’s office is building partnerships with community organizations such as DISC Village, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Wakulla County Coalition for Youth, Wakulla County Schools and others to collect and analyze juvenile-related offense data.

The COPS Unit, through other agency relationships, can follow-up on all juvenile related offenses and crimes. Data collection includes information being compiled on all juvenile related discipline, civil citations, drug and alcohol use issues involving juveniles, interaction with schools and guidance counselors and physical checks of juveniles in the judicial system, in school, at bus stops and other events that juveniles frequent.

The goal of all of the activities within the grant is to reduce the number of incidents, reduce the number of offenders and improve the WCSO response through coordinated and comprehensive efforts to deal with the problems more efficiently and to better serve victims.

The grant will also allow the WCSO to assign staff to neighborhoods or areas for longer periods of time which will allow the agency to grow relationships between the WCSO, youth and their parents.
Crime Analyst Angie Gardner is compiling the data bases to track youth activities. Our goal is to create an environment where COPS grant staff members serve as a school resource officer for the entire community, not just for a single school.

Recently, Sgt. Billy Jones had an interaction with a 14-year-old teenager who is being raised by her grandmother. Her mother is deceased and her father is incarcerated. The teenager shared her experiences raising hogs with Sgt. Jones and she showed Billy her prized possessions inside the make-shift-pen. The interaction between Sgt. Jones and the teenager could end up being the positive interaction that the teenager needs to stay out of trouble and reach her goals of joining the Sheriff’s Explorer program and becoming a federal law enforcement agent in her future.
I do hope we see her in a green uniform someday and we remain open to her possible enrollment in the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranch which has helped many Florida youths including children from Wakulla County. The structured program helps children escape negative home life activities while working on improving their education and social skills for a successful return to their home counties.

I have also created a partnership with Superintendent Bobby Pearce and the school district so we can address drugs on campus and bullying issues. The school district can work with us and address issues on the school campuses but they are somewhat limited off campus. The sheriff’s office and the superintendent’s office are going to be joined at the hip. I think we have the right people in the right places to make a difference in our county.

Looking to the future, we plan to have law enforcement dogs patrolling the school parking areas as a deterrent to youths bringing narcotics on campus. I would envision this occurring two or three times a year as an unannounced activity.

There have been plenty of other things to talk about during the past month including our narcotics officers speaking to school district bus drivers. Their discussion included the most recent trends in narcotics and help in identifying illegal narcotics and Spice. Often students will bring items they should not have at school on the bus and we want to help the drivers become more proactive in keeping the items off school property.

The WCSO Litter Control Unit picked up 9,455 pounds of litter during the month of March. The unit collects trash on both state and county roads. Our inmates have collected more than 9,000 pounds each month this year.

During the month of March the WCSO worked 28 traffic crashes which brought the running total to 80 for 2013. In March 2012, the WCSO worked 36 crashes and through three months in 2012 the total was 103. Be careful on our roads and don’t become a statistic. Please also remember that the Florida Highway Patrol investigates traffic crashes in Wakulla County and our statistics don’t include crashes worked by my former employer.

WCSO detectives served a search warrant at the home of a Crawfordville teenager who was suspected of being involved in a number of Crawfordville vehicle burglaries. The execution of the warrant was successful as the property stolen from the vehicles was recovered and returned to the owners and an arrest was made.

A 29-year-old Crawfordville man was arrested for possession of 35 grams of marijuana after deputies spotted their suspect speeding through Crawfordville. The marijuana was seized and the suspect was arrested on a felony marijuana charge.

Undersheriff Trey Morrison and I attended and graduated from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Chief Executive Seminar in Tallahassee. Our graduating group took classes on demography, budgeting, managing generations, ethics and implementing strategic change.

The goal of the Chief Executive Seminar is to prepare Florida’s criminal justice leadership for the challenging and changing demands of the future. Class participants study trends and events that may affect our state and develop new leadership skills to address and manage those changes.

I was pleased at the number of WCSO staff members who took part in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Wakulla Special Olympics. It was a special day to show these outstanding special athletes how much we care about them and how much we root for them to succeed. I am proud that the event begins at the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputy Jansen Maxwell was promoted to Sergeant in the Corrections Division where he has been working under Major Jared Miller and Captain Jackie Martin. Sgt. Maxwell is a deserving employee and we were pleased to announce his promotion.

I am also proud of members of my staff who are willing to give back to their community with little or no fanfare. Lt. Mike Kemp, Sgt. Danny Harrell and Deputy Richard Moon served as WCSO volunteers with Ability 1st and built a new set of stairs for an older Wakulla County citizen. The steps to the woman’s home had become too steep for her to feel safe walking on them and the WCSO/Ability 1st crew built her a new set of steps with a much lower grade. Thank you for all you guys do to improve the quality of life for our citizens.

Have a safe month everyone!

 

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