Sheriff Rick Staly this evening held the third annual public Addressing Crime Together meeting of his administration, an hour-long and glowing self-evaluation conducted virtually this year through the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, and in the final stretch of his reelection campaign, such as it is: the sheriff faces little opposition, has a six-figure treasure chest and a popularity none of the previous three sheriffs enjoyed heading into reelection going back 20 years.
In previous years, the event drew significant attendance at the Hilton garden Inn, but this year’s coronavirus pandemic would have made a socially-distanced, in-person event difficult.
The timing of the event was not intended to coincide with the campaign. It had been scheduled for March, then June, postponed both times because of covid-19, and was finally moved to a virtual setting, though there was no question that Staly used at least parts of the presentation to make campaign-like appeals to Second Amendment advocates, little relevance though the statements have on local law enforcement.
Still, going above and beyond with the current rhetorical equivalent of filet mignon for Second Amendment advocates, he made a striking statement toward the end of his presentation that called for a so-called open-carry law–the carrying of arms openly in public, seemingly contradicting statements he’d made earlier about the dangers and high rate of road-rage and domestic incidents involving firearms. (Florida is one of five states that has no open-carry law except in rare exceptions, though 2.2 million Floridians have concealed carry permits, including nearly 15,000 in Flagler.)
“As long as I am the sheriff of Flagler County, we are not going to enforce unconstitutional laws that infringe on your Second Amendment right,” he said, suggesting that he would interpret which existing laws would be constitutional and which would not be, though that’s the courts’ purview, not the sheriff’s. “As far as open carry, I don’t have the authority to make that law. That is th Legislature that would have to do that. We have limited open carry now with certain criteria, but I support open carry. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Now I would prefer you call us, and let us respond and handle it. But I want you to be able to protect yourself and your family, and sometimes we can’t get there fast enough. I can tell you that we are investigating two cases right now that preliminary facts appear that they are stand your ground cases.”
In the less ideological majority of his presentation, Staly discussed crime in Flagler County, impacts of Covid-19, the initiatives the Sheriff’s Office has made to improve public service, and agency plans for 2020. Approximately 1,900 people viewed the meeting virtually on Facebook. It was also simulcast on WNZF News radio.
“Across America today there is an important discussion on law enforcement concerning positive community engagement, use of force policies, accountability and the training law enforcement should have. Your sheriff’s office is proud to be a four-diamond accredited agency and recognized as a leader on these issues on these issues and many more,” Staly said, unveiling new web pages on transparency, training, use of force policies, vice policing and more.
Calls for service have continued to increase “dramatically” even as the crime rate has fallen to historic lows–down 47 percent since 2017. Violent crime is down 11 percent. “This is the lowest crime rate since 1995 in Flagler County,” the sheriff said, crediting the community and “guardianship policing,” which he described as not policing the community, but policing with the community. He later noted that crime for the first six months of 2020 was down 24.9 percent, though those six months include three months of the pandemic and the April lockdown, when crime fell sharply across the country.
Covid-19 has had its negative effects, Staly said, such as a 2 percent increase in domestic violence, with firearms used in 38 percent of the cases, compared to just 16 percent in 2019. “So people are pulling guns on each other,” he said, “and that’s considered aggravated assault in Florida.” In 2019, he said, one child was the offender in domestic violence. In 2020, some 23 percent of cases involved a child in the home as the offender. “We attribute that to school being out and the pressures of homeschooling and those kijd of things that went on, which is why we think covid had a significant part in this increase.”
“Road rage was also an issue on I-95, U.S. 1 and Belle Terre and Palm Coast Parkway, where there were cases of motorists pulling a gun on other motorists for such things as being cut off. ‘That is not what you do, and it will eventually cause somebody to be hurt,” Staly said. “All of it can be avoided.” To counter the trend, the department launched a traffic safety campaign to combat aggressive driving behavior, which he said is “usually a learned behavior.” An aggressive driver exhibiting that behavior to his or her children is seeding the same habit in those children once they become drivers, the sheriff said, illustrating his point with a video featuring him saying “it’s time to grow up.”
Staly outlined a series of policing tactics and strategies implemented in his nearly four-year tenure (he’s running for reelection this November, in a race he is expected to win handily.) Most of the initiatives have been reported on extensively–from license-plate readers that have led to the arrest of 126 people, the recovery of 14 missing persons and the recovery of 68 stolen vehicles, plus 19 fugitives. He spoke of grants secured (just over $700,000 this year), the addition of a 10-person traffic team (half on Harleys, half in Mustangs) to various initiatives at the jail for adults and an initiative intended to keep juveniles from straying into crime. He spoke of his “high interest target list,” targeting drug houses in neighborhoods. “You make this list by being a repeat offender,” Staly said. “You do not want to make my sheriff’s high interest target list.” Those on it don’t know they’re on it until the SWAT team shows up at their door.
Some initiatives have nothing to do with crime, like “Safe Trak,” a bracelet system intended to help reduce the wandering or loss of people suffering from dementia. The jail meanwhile continues its streak of zero inmates infected by covid-19, though a few staffers have been. He reiterated that “we all need to do our part” to slow the spread of the disease even if the mask mandates various local governments have approved are not enforceable, he said.
Ahead: a cold-case unit that will reopen several unsolved cases, and a “fatherhood program” at the jail, addressing the generational causes of crime and encouraging fathers released from jail to be “real fathers.” Staly ended his presentation with an invitation to individuals looking for a career in law enforcement, though one of the bullet points in the presentation took an unfortunate and likely not intended turn of phrase, as it could easily be misinterpreted–“anything you want to do in law enforcement you can do at the FCSO”. (Just last month the agency charged and arrested one of its deputies for allegedly doing a bit too much of what he wanted to do.)
In October, the International Association of Chiefs of Police at its virtual conference will be announcing that the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office has won the Victim Services Award for placing victims at the center of the agency’s services. Staly said the sheriff’s office was up against 19,000 police agencies in the country, including 3,000 sheriff’s offices. “That’s who we were competing with, and your sheriff’s office was selected.”