In the first six months of 2018, violent crime is down 37.5 percent compared to a year ago, property crimes are down 14 percent and the overall crime rate is down 18 percent, according to Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly.
He provided the number at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast this morning featuring Staly and Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney. The breakfast, part of the chamber’s Common Ground series, was focused on law enforcement. Bunnell’s Tom Foster would have normally appeared alongside his colleagues, but Foster these days is the city’s acting manager rather than its police chief, pending Bunnell finding a new manager.
The first of a half dozen questions from the audience was about the troubled Sheriff’s Operations Center, evacuated in June because of employees’ health concerns over its interior air. “I don’t have any long-term answers yet on the building, we’re kind of in a holding pattern,” the sheriff said, with the Centers for Disease Control possibly looking at the issue. “I don’t think this will be a quick solution.”
Up to the question-and-answer period the sheriff had spent several minutes outlining the agency’s direction in the last 18 months. “I lead an amazing team of men and women that serve this community with dedication, 303 employees,” he said, “Thanks to the Board of County Commissioners and the City of Palm Coast we had an infusion of new staff this year that’s allowing us to do new things, a total of 21 new positions this fiscal year.” County funding added 10 deputies, city funding added five, the latter assigned to doubling the agency’s traffic unit.
“Hopefully you’ve seen the new five-person traffic unit, but you haven’t seen them with the blue lights behind you,” the sheriff said, referring to a “herd of mustangs” (as the News-Journal referred to them in a recent headline) now supplementing five motorcycle units on traffic duty. The Mustangs are not equipped with overhead lights, nor are their front ends painted in police colors, so drivers being followed by them will not know that a cop is behind them–possibly until it’s too late and embedded lights are flashing. Whether there’s a connection or not, traffic fatalities so far this year in Flagler are at seven, compared to 37 for 2017.
The sheriff also discussed the implementation of a district-type policing approach, which broke up the county into three districts to more effectively address each district’s needs, rehabilitative programs at the county jail, which has increased its census from 130 when the sheriff took over to an average of 230 inmates today, the development of a four-deputy unit that will target designated areas of crime, the return of the sheriff’s marine unit, which had been scrubbed in the past decade because of budget cuts, and an update on the agency’s focus on domestic violence.
“Now victims of domestic violence know there is a community support system behind them,” Staly said even though domestic violence incidents have not abated. “Eventually I believe that we will turn that curve but right now I believe we will see a bit of an increase in domestic violence” arrests.
Most of these initiatives have been discussed at length previously. One had not: the sheriff’s new “S.W.E.A.T.” program, an acronym for Sheriff’s Work Ethic and Training, for a program for juvenile offenders or for youths whose parents believe need a little behavioral adjustments. Courts may assign youths to the program. Or parents may enroll their children voluntarily. Either way, youths then take part in mentoring discussions and civically useful activities, including such things as beach clean-ups, to develop a sense of responsibility and get a clearer understanding of what the alternative to a responsibly led life may be: they get to see the jail and experience what it’s like to have limited contact with family or the outside world.
Staly also talked about social media’s effects on improving the agency’s PR push, and how he became a convert of those lip-sync videos making the rounds of police departments across the state. “I will confess that I was hesitant to participate and when the staff first came to me and asked me to do that, I said this is the stupidest thing that law enforcement has ever done,” Staly said of producing a video in-house. Three weeks later he’d surrendered and starred alongside deputies in a rendition of Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock.”
“I was wrong, it was not the stupidest thing,” Staly said, “in fact it’s probably some of the best public relations across America that law enforcement has ever done to show the human side of law enforcement.”
As Staly spoke one could sympathize with Doughney, the Flagler Beach chief, for seeming to be marginalized, as people who share the stage with Staly can be. But Doughney was aware of the dynamics: Chamber President Jorge Gutierrez had spent a good part of the morning reading the two men’s biographies, with Staly’s testing the bounds of eternity, so that by the time Soughney spoke, he too had a confession: “I realized two things,” Doughney said. “One, I need to work on my bio after hearing Rick’s, and two, to sit with someone like Rick Staly is like getting invited from the kiddy table up to the big table. Rick’s always been a mentor to me,a friend and a consummate professional, so to sit alongside him as a peer is incredible for me, it’s a thrill and an honor.” He had equally lavish compliments for his troops.
And he spoke of his agency’s recent PR efforts, among them two events where children could paint rocks with cops. “Because after the hurricanes the children of our community didn’t have a whole lot to do and we wanted to show them that law enforcement is more than just riding around in a police car or riding on a bike or wearing black socks that say police pon them,” Doughney said. He was wearing black socks that say “police” on them. “So we wanted to get to the level where kids saw us as something different.”
He spoke of the city’s prescription-drug drop-off point at the police station, which in April netted 263 pounds of pills that did not end up poisoning the aquifer or ending up in garbage heaps, and of the city’s issuance of warnings rather than traffic tickets, with the condition that the motorist must turn in a toy for the city’s Christmas toy drive for the needy, through Christmas Come True, the Flagler Beach non-profit.
The breakfast drew about 50 people–the usual mixture of government and business leaders augmented this time by an unusual number of candidates running for office, most of whom won’t reappear past the election in August.