City and county officials are butting heads over how to respond to violent crime in Leon County. The area has seen a spate of killings recently, and it’s not clear how local governments will respond.
Leon County’s murder rate is on the rise, nearing the high mark of 21 homicides set in 2015. According to FDLE's uniform crime reports, the number of killings has nearly quadrupled since 1999. And Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum wants to treat the situation like an emergency.
“The high point for me is whatever we’re doing right now is insufficient to meet the scale of the threat,” Gillum said.
He wants to put all law enforcement under the leadership of Sheriff Walt McNeil. And he’s calling on the county to activate its emergency operations center, which officials most recently used to respond to Hurricane Irma.
“And I don’t mean a permanent shift, I mean that we give ourselves six or eight months to figure this structure out, operating as the emergency operations center to attack this element of violent crime in our community,” Gillum said.
The mayor met with County Commission Chair John Dailey Monday, along with city and county staff and representatives from the sheriff’s office and police department. Gillum, who is running for governor, highlighted the importance of signaling to the public and sending a strong message. But Dailey says transferring city police power to the county isn’t workable.
“First of all, I don’t think the recommendation would come from your city manager to transfer power. I just don’t. I don’t see that recommendation being made. And I don’t see the city commission supporting that recommendation in a majority,” Dailey said.
Dailey was straightforward in his rejection of Gillum's proposal.
“The short of it is we’re not going to activate the EOC. I think that we can accomplish your goals, and the collective goals of the table, which I quite frankly agree with as well, without activating the EOC. It does not serve its purpose,” Dailey said.
The county’s lawyer argues there are legal stumbling blocks to the proposal as well. And Dailey says the EOC isn’t designed to address law enforcement issues like this. The debate heated up from there.
“The lifting up of our own emergency operations center would allow us to define some parameters, again not permanently, not permanent parameters,” Gillum said.
“But," Dailey cut in, "but it wouldn’t because it doesn’t have a law enforcement capacity to activate. It has an administrative capacity.”
“That is your conclusion and your attorney’s conclusion,” Gillum replied.
The sheriff’s office and police department are collaborating. Officers meet regularly, and are working on sharing data across departments. And local governments have tried to address some of the social factors behind crime, establishing mentor programs, extending social services, and looking into basic infrastructure in the hardest hit neighborhoods.
Community members who attended the meeting urged officials to double down on job programs and social support systems. Stanley Sims is a community activist and former felon.
"Everybody out there is not selling drugs because they choose to," he said. "Desperate people do desperate things."
But Gillum says the collective response is not enough.
“At some point, obviously this community will hold everybody accountable for what we did or didn’t do in the face of what I think is an unprecedented challenge,” Gillum said.
For Gillum, that community response could have ramifications for his bid for governor.
Despite Dailey’s rejection, Gillum says he will present his proposal at the city commission meeting scheduled for Wednesday at 4pm.