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Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil Speaks On Crime and Recruitment In 2021

Man smiling in a sheriff's uniform.
file photo
Florida Sheriffs Association

There are only four months left in 2021. Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil spoke to WFSU reporter Blaise Gainey about how crime and recruitment at the office have fared so far this year.

BG: How has crime changed during this global pandemic that we've been in for over a year now?

WM: There hasn't been a real big difference. With respect to relaxation of the COVID-19 restrictions, we have these seasonal changes that we anticipate every year. And they are primarily based on the climate. When we have warm weather and summer comes, people go on vacations. And during vacation times, there are more homes that are broken into, there are more cars that are left unlocked. And people are more active, they're out in parks and, and so you have those elements of travel, and more people with free time. We usually have an increase in the amount of crime that takes place here in Tallahassee, Leon County. So it's been, for the most part, regular types of crimes that we've seen. Now, as relates to person’s crimes. We've seen actually a decrease in a number of person crimes, that is crimes of assault, robbery against a person, and or shootings.

BG: And with more than 10 shootings last month, they haven't been more than 50 this year. Is that any indication that there's growing gang violence in Leon County?

WM: We don't have what some large cities called gang shootings. Well, we have, quite honestly, our people with disputes, shootings, whether that dispute is about drug deals or about girlfriends, or about arguments that took place at a bar or location. Those are mostly the types of shootings that we have, from time to time. There may be a Southside versus Northside shooting that takes place in Tallahassee. But generally speaking, most of our shootings have to do with what we call persons having extreme passion, and or anger at another person because of a relationship or because of a drug deal or something that's gone bad.

BG: Okay, well, how's recruitment going? I know since last summer, there's been outcries to defund the police, and also just a lot of pushback against the way that policing was done in certain communities. How has that impacted recruiting here in Leon County?

WM: Yeah, that's a good question. And it depends on the region of the country you're in. I was in a conversation last week with some other law enforcement agencies and, quite honestly, here locally, we have been recruiting for this entire year, and we're almost completely staffed. I think we have only seven positions open. And we have retirements taking place almost monthly. So to have only seven openings, kind of speaks to the fact that we are very aggressively recruiting and bringing good people on board. The fact is that in some of those regions, like in New York State and other places where the police feel like they're being underappreciated, some of those persons are quitting those jobs, and actually applying for jobs, particularly in the state of Florida. So while some parts of the country are having recruitment problems, I think you'll find in the state of Florida, that most agencies are telling you, they've got people standing in line now. Our challenge is making sure that we hire people that are good, outstanding potential law enforcement officers, and are not people who are trying to escape their actions from other regions of the country. So that's the major focus that we have here is making sure that we are bringing good people in that will be constitutional in the way they go about policing Leon County.

BG: All right. And is there anything that you would like to add today before we end our conversation?

WM: No, other than saying that, as you perhaps know, that we've had, over the last five years, a 55% reduction in crime. That averages out to about a 10% reduction over the last five years. So well, we are having some, obviously, some challenges as relates to the shootings. We are making some significant progress, but I will hasten to say that we also need -our biggest challenge here in Leon county- is having enough social service organizations and our employment opportunities for those members of our community who are what we call Adverse Childhood Experiences who've had adverse childhood experiences being gainfully employed and able to finish high schools here in our community once we get those things under control I think you'll see even these crime rates go even further down.

BG: Alright, well thanks Sheriff Walt McNeil for taking the time out to speak with me today.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.