To protect students, deputies will be taking AR-15s to campuses and keeping them in biometric safes, Sheriff Rick Staly said.
Crime in Flagler County is down so far this year from last year, and the Flagler County Sheriff's Office has created a new tactical unit and marine unit and is planning strategies to increase security at local schools, including storing AR-15s on campus in biometric safes so deputies responding to a shooting could quickly grab firepower that would match that of the attacker.
Sheriff Rick Staly explained the new programs and recent crime trends to the community at an "Addressing Crime Together" community meeting attended by about 80 people, including more than a dozen law enforcement officers, at the Hilton Garden Inn on April 19.
Bunnell Police Chief Tom Foster also spoke at the event. Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney was unable to attend because he was at the courthouse dealing with a case.
"One of the focuses when I became sheriff was to implement guardianship policing, and guardianship policing requires a partnership," Staly said. "We are quickly doing that, and this is one of those opportunities to engage the community to ensure that we are all working as guardians in our community. ... I am a firm believer that our job is to reduce crime. Not to cap it, not to sit back and watch it increase ... and I hold our team accountable for doing that."
WHICH CRIMES ARE UP, AND WHICH ARE DOWN
For the FCSO's five "focus crimes" — robberies, commercial burglaries, residential burglaries, car break-ins, and stolen vehicles — crime was down a total of 18% overall in the first quarter of 2018 over the first quarter of 2017.
"We believe that that’s because we laid the foundation in 2017 ... and you’re now seeing fruits of that investment," Staly said.
There were reductions in four of the five charges. Car break-ins were the exception: There was a 13% increase in those. Most of them, Staly said, were cases of thieves stealing items out of unlocked cars.
Violent crimes are also down 18% so far this year, although there has been an increase in rapes — much of it, Staly said, from one case the FCSO is investigating which has multiple victims.
"What we’re seeing in rape-type cases is that the offender is usually known by the victim," Staly said. "It’s either a boyfriend, if you will, or it could be a parent. … When you look at what our major case detectives are investigating when it comes to sex crimes, it’s really disheartening and sad when you see what people will do to somebody they're related to."
Property crimes are down, with the exception of shoplifting. Narcotics arrests are increasing.
The FCSO is up 27% in arrests so far this quarter over the first quarter of last year, and the agency's clearance rate — the percentage of reported crimes that end with an arrest — is also up, at slightly under 28% so far. The clearance rate was 23.5% last year and 21.66% in 2016, before Staly took office. The statewide 2016 average was 25.6%.
The FCSO is up 23% in bookings at the county jail. It's averaging about 250-260 arrests a month, Staly said, and occupancy at the jail is averaging 208 a night, with occasional spikes to almost 230. When Staly took office, it averaged about 130.
Part of that is because of increased FCSO involvement on social media and programs like the FCSO's "Fugitive Bingo" program, which has had about a 60% apprehension rate.
Staly predicted that when the FCSO started focusing on domestic violence, rates would go up as more people came forward — and they have.
Last year, Staly convened a domestic violence summit and task force to focus on domestic crimes, which have been a steady problem in Flagler.
With a $160,000 state grant, the FCSO hired a full-time detective and a crime analyst, both of whom work solely on domestic violence cases.
The increased focus could potentially be life-saving.
Just last week, Staly said, a domestic violence suspect was arrested, then released by a judge with a no contact order barring him from approaching the victim.
"But we knew he would go right back," Staly said. "So our detective anticipated that … and we immediately arrested him on violation of a no contact order." This time, Staly said, the suspect is being held without bond.
The agency hopes to set up a program in which offenders who are released from jail or prison with no-contact orders will be fitted with ankle monitors that are linked to a perimeter around a victim's home, so that if the offender approaches the victim and crosses the perimeter, an alert is sent to local law enforcement and to the victim.
Locals aren't used to seeing deputies in Ford Mustangs. But the Sheriff's Office, which has hired five new deputies for traffic enforcement in Palm Coast, is buying some of the venerable car model and prepping them for speed enforcement.
Watch out: They'll be marked, but they won't have roof lights, making them less obvious from a distance. If you notice one and you're speeding, Staly said, it's probably too late to hit your brakes and avoid a traffic stop.
They'll also be used for DUI and aggressive driving enforcement.
The FCSO has performed 1,407 traffic stops, written 780 tickets ad made 30 DUI arrests so far this year, Staly said.
Staly noted that drivers who are stopped have about a 50-50 chance of getting ticketed. "It doesn't matter to me if we write tickets if we can get the compliance, because that’s what we’re looking for," he said.
NEW MARINE, TACTICAL UNITS
The Sheriff's Office has three boats — one for the Intracoastal and bigger water, one for ponds and other flat waters, and now an airboat for the marshes — and is starting a marine unit that will patrol the Intracoastal and area canals.
The airboat was used for the first time to retrieve the body of a man who'd committee suicide near the marshes just off the Intracoastal.
It would have been useful, Staly said, for the last two plane crashes in the county, in which planes went down in there marshes.
Another new team will be the "PACE" — for problem area crime enforcement — team, which will use "tactical-inspired" vehicles that blend into neighborhoods. It will tackle home and car burglaries, drug crimes and gangs, Staly said.
The PACE team will begin working in about two months, when the deputies finish their training, Staly said.
Local deputies have AR-15s available to help stop a mass shooting. But school resource deputies have historically kept them in their cars.
Now, Staly said, they'll transition to storing the firearms at school during school hours, in biometric safes.
That way, if there is ever a shooting on campus, deputies won't have to run out to their vehicle to retrieve the firearm.
"I just met with all our deputies in February and made it clear that my expectation is if we have an active shooter call that we don’t wait, we go in. And they all get that," Staly said. "When you look at our campuses, especially high schools, they’re huge — they’re like small cities. So you could have a deputy on one end of the campus, have an active shooter, but first (the deputy) needs that AR-15 so he can match what is potentially being used."
Every school resource deputy has been trained on the AR-15s, Staly said.
The FCSO is working on increasing funding to staff deputies in schools at the level required by state legislation passed after the Parkland shooting. Doing so will require adding eight deputies, with the high schools each having two.
"Two deputies, on big campuses, should help that situation a lot," Staly said.