|Memories from my first year in office-Wakulla Times Jan. 2014|
LOOKING BACK AT MY FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE
BY CHARLIE CREEL
They say that as you get older the time passes more quickly. Following the 2012 election season which was long and arduous, the 2013 calendar year flew by. It has been one full year since Wakulla County Judge Jill Walker led the swearing in ceremony which made me the third Wakulla County sheriff since 1977.
It has been an eventful year and it has been a gratifying year. I have been blessed to work with such great people within the agency. Each and every member of the agency has that common goal to make Wakulla County as safe a community in which to live as possible and to serve the residents of our community to the best of their ability.
The names and faces that make up the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office may change from time to time but our goal remains the same. We want to deliver the best law enforcement and detention services to the Wakulla County community and do it for the lowest possible cost.
On Jan. 8, Judge Walker joined my family, Undersheriff Trey Morrison’s family and many of my supporters in the courthouse for the swearing in ceremony. It was a humbling experience to have my mother pin on my badge and it was a wonderful experience to be able to spend time with a courtroom full of Wakulla citizens that wanted to offer their best wishes going forward.
And we hit the ground running. I announced that Trey Morrison would become undersheriff and have direct oversight of the law enforcement section of the WCSO operation. Captain Chris Savary and Captain Randall Taylor were asked to supervise the Road Patrol and Criminal Investigations Division respectively.
One of the first things I did when I got behind my new desk was reach out to Superintendent of Schools Bobby Pearce. Bobby was elected during the same fall election cycle I was and I felt it was important to form a partnership that addressed the continued safety of our school children.
The sheriff’s office dedicated a unit of staff to work with children’s issues and supplement the great work done by our School Resource Officers based at Wakulla High School, Wakulla Middle School, Riversprings Middle School and Sopchoppy Second Chance School.
One of the great things I love about Wakulla County is the willingness of our citizens to be part of the law enforcement solution rather than always being part of the problem. In January, a motorist on Highway 267 reported observing a 21-month-old child on the side of the road without supervision. With the help of a state forester and Sgt. Danny Harrell we were able to return the child to his father. The parent fell asleep at his home and the child escaped out an open door. Sgt. Harrell returned the child to the father unharmed.
Another missing children’s case was solved in January when a parent used the restroom at his home and returned to find his child missing. The child was located by another concerned citizen on Shadeville Highway. The two-year-old child was found in good health by Deputy Vicki Mitchell and Sgt. Mike Helms.
The Department of Transportation awarded the sheriff’s office a contract to clean the sides of state roads of litter. The sheriff’s work crew continued to clean the sides of local roads and our public parks and continue to be on pace for more than 200,000 pounds of trash in a single calendar year. Studies have shown that communities that take pride in their appearance have lower crime rates than those that don’t.
Gov. Rick Scott sent Lt. Boonie Mitchell a letter of congratulations after K-9 Gunny and Lt. Mitchell were named as the K-9 Trail Team of 2012 for the entire State of Florida. It was a great honor for both Boonie and Gunny. Later in the year we would host a retirement ceremony for Gunny in the Emergency Operations Center. Like all highly trained K-9’s, Gunny took the attention as part of a day’s work. He did enjoy a few doggie snacks, too.
With much national conversation regarding gun control across the United States, the Florida Sheriff’s Association went on record supporting the Second Amendment on behalf of the 67 sheriffs in Florida.
Lt. Bruce Ashley and members of several state agencies met with Wakulla County senior citizens at the Senior Center to discuss several types of fraud that older Americans face. The session gave seniors an opportunity to question state agencies about different types of fraud since senior citizens are particularly susceptible to fraud.
Many of the WCSO work crews that roam the sides of roads picking up trash have been completely male oriented. But for the first time last year the WCSO used female trustees to collect waste along the roads.
The duties of deputy sheriff are always changing and always different from day to day. Last year some members of the WCSO staff were asked to assist in the moving of the old Smith Creek school structure from Smith Creek to the Historical Society property in Crawfordville. The deputies helped the moving crew safety navigate through morning traffic on Highway 267 and U.S. Highway 319 while allowing the crew to move the school under power lines along the route.
Project Lifesaver was used to find a 26-year-old special needs female who wandered away from her caregiver at Wal-Mart. The missing female was wearing a Project Lifesaver bracelet and deputies used the radio transmitter tracking device to locate the female in less than 30 minutes. The missing female was located tangled in weeds and brush on the fence line of the property safe, sound and only disoriented.
I am very proud of the work that the WCSO Maintenance crew does. They not only keep the WCSO facility and all of the related equipment in proper working order, but they save taxpayers thousands of dollars each year by performing tasks that once required hired vendors. The crew is not only available to perform many different maintenance tasks, they are extremely talented in completing the tasks whether it involves plumbing, carpentry, motor vehicles, heating and air conditioning or many other areas of expertise.
In the category of you never know what to expect next, the WCSO and several agencies from Leon County investigated a suicide death that occurred in northern Wakulla County. What made this case different was that the victim was a hobbyist who enjoyed making homemade fireworks. It took law enforcement officials more than a day to sort through improperly stored fireworks to safety conduct the investigation. There were no signs of foul play.
The WCSO works well with other agencies and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission assisted WCSO in locating a missing 50-year-old Perry man who became lost in the St. Marks Refuge. Law enforcement used thermal imaging equipment to locate the missing man in less than an hour.
The WCSO made a crack cocaine arrest in Crawfordville when deputies observed a 42-year-old Crawfordville man sleeping in his running vehicle. A search of the vehicle turned up crack and powder cocaine as well as $1,993 in U.S. currency. The cocaine had a value of approximately $900.
The WCSO worked with the U.S. Marshals to locate and arrest three men in connection with a home invasion in Crawfordville. The men took cash and cell phones from the victims. The three men were all arrested at different locations in Tallahassee within five days of the crime. In addition to the Marshals, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office assisted with the arrests.
An arrest of a 37-year-old St. Marks man occurred following the service of a search warrant at his home. The man had an active methamphetamine lab in the bathroom. He also had marijuana and narcotics equipment at the home.
Former Wakulla County Sheriff David Harvey met me in my office to present the WCSO with an award for “Outstanding Improvement in Fleet Safety and Loss Control.” The WCSO experienced a sharp decline in the number of incidents that required risk management coverage. The former sheriff is now the Executive Director of the Florida Sheriff’s Risk Management Fund which provides insurance coverage to sheriff’s offices throughout the state.
I enjoy recognizing the outstanding efforts of our WCSO employees each quarter and Deputy Scott Powell, Detention Deputy Rocky Strickland and Kimberly Gilhousen were recognized from law enforcement, detention and civilian staff for the first quarter of 2013.
We held a special pinning ceremony where Ryan Muse and Lorne Whaley were promoted to sergeant and received their chevrons. Lorne was pinned by his dad, Earl, and Ryan was pinned by his soon to be wife, Michelle.
Detention Deputy Jansen Maxwell received a promotion in the detention unit. Jansen became Sgt. Maxwell in recognition of his outstanding work.
WCSO members took part in the Special Olympics Torch Run from the sheriff’s office administration building to the courthouse. Law enforcement agencies from around the state show their support to our Special Olympic athletes by taking the time to run with them prior to their Olympic games.
Our 2013 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year was Detective Rob Giddens while Detention Deputy Randy Barnes was selected as the Detention Deputy of the Year. Ashley Chapman Gibson was named the Communications Officer of the Year and Pete Cochran was named the Civilian Employee of the Year. Brandon Willis was selected as the Volunteer of the Year.
Our crime rate in Wakulla County fell in 2013 and the crime clearance rate increased. The number of index crimes reported in the county decreased due to the diligence of the investigators and our deputy’s ability to make arrests.
Narcotics dogs searched Wakulla High School for illegal drugs during the year. The activity is part of a continuing effort to keep Wakulla students free from the threat of illegal drugs.
A Tallahassee Eagle Scout earned his ranking by erecting a new flagpole and plantings at the WCSO Range. The project to become an Eagle Scout included planning and organizing the event as well as carrying out the actual activity of erecting the pole and putting plants in the ground.
Former Wakulla County Commissioner Mike Stewart was named the Community Traffic Safety Team (CTST) Member of the Year for 2011 and 2012. Several members of the WCSO are active on the CTST including the past two chairmen, Sgt. Billy Jones and PIO Keith Blackmar.
A state correctional officer was arrested for illegal narcotics after a joint investigation that included the WCSO. Undercover agents were able to intercept a package containing illegal narcotics intended for the suspect at his home.
Sgt. Billy Jones was recognized after his fast action saved the life of a four-year-old child who was choking on an object in her throat and had stopped breathing. Sgt. Jones was able to dislodge the object prior to her transport to a Tallahassee hospital.
Detective Derek Lawhon was honored by the Florida Council on Crime and Delinquency in Dade City. The Council recognized Detective Lawhon for his efforts to return stolen property to victims of burglaries.
Holidays can be enjoyable for visitors to Wakulla County unless they nearly turn tragic. Lt. Mike Kemp and Mike’s friend Joel Wier helped rescue a Tallahassee man and his two children from the rough waters of the Ochlockonee River after the teenagers capsized in a kayak in a storm.
Two young men helped the WCSO locate a missing 89-year-old resident who walked away from his home. The boys, ages 9 and 8, were able to direct law enforcement to a home where the elderly man was located. The man was sitting outside the home thinking he was locked out of his own home. He was actually at a neighboring property.
Another meth lab arrest was made in Crawfordville following the service of a search warrant. The 31-year-old suspect was arrested inside a home that was also occupied by two other adults and five juveniles.
Four WCSO inmates were successful in obtaining their GED after participating in the jail tutoring program led by instructor Don Franks.
A federal grant through the Florida Department of Transportation provided the Traffic Unit Chevrolet Tahoe that Sgt. Mike Helms uses for traffic duties. The high tech vehicle came with a number of special features including new lighting and sirens and a camera.
A 70 plant marijuana bust took place in Crawfordville as the WCSO broke up a grow house operation that was well established off White Oak Drive.
The sheriff’s office took a bite out of residential burglaries with four arrests in the Wakulla Gardens area that included three male and one female teenager. The WCSO stepped up educational efforts in Wakulla Gardens and the Wakulla Station area to remind citizens to lock their vehicles and remove valuables from inside when they leave it.
Deputies foiled an attempted burglary at Mike’s Marine Supply in Panacea and made an arrest of a Crawfordville man. The suspect was caught with the stolen motor along with items use to break into the business establishment.
After years of dedicated service with multiple handlers, Gunny the WCSO K-9 retired from service. A retirement ceremony was held for Gunny complete with a cake and dog biscuits.
WCSO narcotics investigators made seven arrests during a drug arrest sweep throughout the county in October. Two additional suspects were being held in the Leon County Jail prior to facing Wakulla charges. In all, the WCSO activated 24 arrest warrants and included 50 felony charges ranging from the sale of crack cocaine to sale of marijuana, trafficking and sale of a controlled substance and possession and sale of synthetic narcotics.
Deputy Alan Middlebrooks, Detention Deputy Robert Stanley and Communications Officer Lucy Gowdy were recognized as Law Enforcement, Detention and Communications Officers of the Quarter at the WCSO.
Improvements to the WCSO Training Center and Firing Range included the addition of turning targets for improved law enforcement training. The new targets will enhance the quality of training the Range can offer law enforcement officials using the facility.
K-9 drug dogs were used to sweep the middle schools and high school during the fall in an attempt to find any illegal narcotics. Only some older marijuana was located at the high school grounds. No arrests were made.
WCSO deputies located a missing 11-year-old child after only a few hours after the child left school without telling school officials where he was going.
The sheriff’s office returned $160,360 to the county commission from our unspent budget revenue and the sheriff’s office raised $2.257 million in jail bed revenue from the federal government during the budget year. We have budgeted $150,000 less in our jail bed revenue plans to account for possible federal government shortfalls.
We have also worked with the county commission to begin construction on the new WCSO Annex which will allow the sheriff’s office to have our entire staff in a central location rather than spread around the county. Serious leaking of the administrative building roof has been repaired and our heating and air conditioning system has been renovated.
As we all begin the second year of the new WCSO administration I ask that everyone take the time to be careful on our roads. The number of fatal traffic accidents has been reduced from seven in 2012 to two in 2013. I ask that you not drink and drive and don’t text and drive to protect your own life and the lives of others on our roads.
At the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office we are proud of the work that we do each and every day to keep everyone in the county safe. From everyone at our agency, have a Happy and Safe 2014.