By ALICIA LEONARD
As the clock struck 12:01 a.m. on the first day of January 2009, a new sheriff arrived in Walton County and he and his new team wasted no time in getting down to business. In courtroom B of the Walton County courthouse, close to 100 deputies, family members and well-wishers gathered to watch the six-day appointment ceremony of new Walton County Sheriff Michael A. Adkinson Jr.
The early appointment by Gov. Charlie Crist had been brought about by former Walton County Sheriff Ralph Johnson’s early retirement on Dec. 31. 2008, just six days before Adkinson was scheduled to be sworn-in with the other constitutional officers. The appointment ended on January 6 and Adkinson was sworn-in at the Tuesday morning ceremony with the rest.
At one minute past midnight on New Year’s Eve, Walton County Clerk of Courts Martha Ingle administered the oath to Adkinson. Minutes before administering the oath, Ingle smiled and told the DeFuniak Springs Herald, “This is certainly a first for me, as well.”
After the ceremony, Adkinson turned to the deputies in attendance and administered the oath to them, officially placing them under his command. New Walton County Under-Sheriff Bill Chapman then spoke briefly of policy changes that would be covered later in the meeting and re-introduced Adkinson to the deputies that were now his charges.
Adkinson said, “Ladies and Gentleman, and to those of you that have heard this speech before and have heard campaign promises, it’s now time for action. It’s time for the Walton County Sheriffs Office (WCSO) to show that we are proud to serve the people of Walton County; that we are a family and we are dedicated to the success of each other and the people of this county.
“I’ve done what I believe is a very good job of going out and finding the people that I believe will help us build this agency,” he said. “We also have fantastic talent already within the agency. The new people in the agency are here to help you, to fuel growth, to give you the opportunities, so that you become the next sergeant, lieutenant, captain, sheriff. My job is to find my own replacement. That’s what I told the new people when they came here. Their job is to train someone to take their place. That’s how agencies grow. We become better by preparing people to become the next generation of leaders and that’s what we are here to do.”
Adkinson then introduced members of the new staff to his department, saying, “The division of professional standards will now be headed by Chief of Professional Standards Capt. Westphal. He comes to us with a long and distinguished career. He is extremely capable and qualified. Lt. Audie Rowell is our new Internal Affairs investigator. He will also be working in the division of professional standers. In IA, one of the things we saw that in the past these things got passed around to people. That’s not fair to you, it’s not fair to the agency for different people to have to deal with them. You deserve someone who is dedicated, trained, whose sole purpose is to see you are treated fairly; the truth, for the lack of a better word, that the right thing is done. So, now we have someone whose job is strictly to handle Internal Affairs.
“Lt. Michael Howell is next. Michael will be assigned to Special Operations, which will be run by Capt. Graham Fountain. Lt. Mike Barker will be under Capt. Fountain and in special services. He will be handling Judicial Services, which also include the Communication division. The communications division will now have a sworn supervisor,” said Adkinson.
“Capt. Tom Ring is now the head of Criminal Investigation division. He is extremely competent and I think you will all be happy with the changes. Working directly for Capt. Ring will be Lt. Brian Schultz.”
Adkinson addressed other changes in the department, too. “We’ve had a little bit of movement. Some of our lieutenants that have been moved will be Lt. Eddie Farris, Lt. Tony Mircle, Lt. Keith Chamblee. They will be moved to start a new division called Citizen Services. Lt. Chamblee will be based on the south end, Lt. Miracle will be based on the north end and Lt. Farris will be based in Freeport. We are moving that way. It will take us a little more time to get our Freeport office up and running, but in the meantime, Lt. Farris will be helping us in the north office,” said Adkinson.
“Patrol, we have officially, at midnight, gone with a watch commander system. Your watch commanders for Patrol divison is Lt. Bruce Maddox, Lt. Jason Adkinson, Lt. Oscar Jiggetts and Lt. Billy May. Capt. Bobby Butler will be heading the Patrol division.”
Accreditation, policy and procedure changes were addressed next. “I promised you we would go forth with accreditation and we are starting that process immediately. Every policy that you will be receiving in the future will meet state accreditation standards. There are about 13 policy changes that happen immediately. Some are not a whole lot different, some are quite different.
“We are going to re-do the entire policy manual. As you have it now, it does not exist. There will be no more management by memo. There will be a defined rule-book so that you understand what the rules are and they won’t change day-to-day. The rules that are put in place will be the rules as long as we’re here, so that everybody here understands. I’ve often said that I want you to be able to come in and say, ‘Sheriff, I’ve got this problem and you said do this, but look what your policy says,’ and that’s when I have to say, ‘You know what? You’re right,’ because when I do what I say I’m going to do, is when you’ll have faith in that policy manual and that’s what we’re working for. So that you have faith in the policy manual and the protection of that policy and the way we treat you.” Adkinson added that new uniforms, weapons and training would soon to be addressed and added that Lt. Joe Preston would handle training for the WCSO. “We are going to continue the good work that has been going on in training, continue to move forward in that area, but the main thing I want to ask of all of you is to be involved. The success or failure of this agency – while it rides on me, it also rides on you. I need you to be involved. You have a stake. This is your agency. If you know a better way of doing something, speak up. Commitment to excellence is something you are going to start seeing everywhere. That is what we are about. It’s not just going to be something we put on cars or in the newspaper. It’s going to be how we do business. Let’s live it. I am proud to serve you as your sheriff and I’m going to give you a 110 percent and we are going to turn this agency into a place we can all be proud of.”
Under-sheriff Chapman then took a moment to address the deputies, “I have always said to treat others the way you want to be treated. I know sometimes that is hard, but I believe it is worth it. So when you’re out there on the road, remember how you would want to be treated when you are working with others and the public.”
Chapman introduced Capt.Westphal who spoke on policy changes. Westphal said more policy changes would be forthcoming, but “Before we talk about policy, lets talk briefly about accreditation. It’s one of the things Sheriff Adkinson ran on, getting this agency accredited, and it’s not new. It’s something the Florida Legislature put into statutes back in 1993 about the need for agencies to become accredited. Well, that is what policy is about. It’s written in the statute under chapter 943.125 and said the Florida Sheriff’s Association (FSA) and the Florida Chief’s Association (FCA) needed to develop an accreditation system that was independent of any agencies such as the FSA and the FCA, so they came up with the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation (CFA). When you look through your new policy and you see a number and CFA that the standard for commission we have to meet to become accredited.”
Some highlights of the changes in policy included organizational structure, dress codes, secondary employment and use of agency vehicles. Those who are allowed to drive vehicles must reside within 20 miles of the Walton County line. If an officer lives outside of that 20 miles they must request approval to park their car at a safe location. They will not be allowed to take their vehicles out of the state. All ammo will now be issued by the WCSO. If an officer uses a secondary private weapon, they must use WCSO ammo and the caliber of weapon that officers can carry will be regulated. WCSO deputies will be moving toward the use of Tasers, as well. The use of notice to appear will be used more regularly and if a member of a foreign country is arrested, there is a requirement to notify that country’s consul. Pursuits will no longer be allowed for traffic violations. Only when an officer believes a forceable felony has taken place, will pursuits will be allowed. Westall encouraged members of the department to contribute to the writing of new policy whenever possible.
Before ending the meeting, Adkinson reminded the deputies that there would be a new process for promotions to sergeant within the WCSO, “This will be clearly defined. The truth about it is I have the ability to promote who I wanted, but I didn’t do that. This is a competitive process and it is based on many things – such as experience, education and many other things. No one thing out-rules another. So, over the next 60 days, if you want to be promoted and even if you’re not ready to be promoted, I still urge you to take part in the process to understand how it’s done. Then it comes in front of a review board. The list will then be good for a year. I told you I was going do it and I’m going to do it. Promotions will come off that list. I won’t be a part of that score. You score what you score. It’s the fair and right thing to do. I encourage you to take charge of your career and your commitment to advance,” said Adkinson.
The sheriff’s office will also be starting a mentoring program. “You may want to move from patrol to another area. We are going to try and adjust your schedule once a year to mentor in other divisions. We encourage you to get out there and learn about other parts of this agency and learn if it’s the right fit for you. I will provide you with the best training, equipment and salary, and I want you to give a hundred percent to your own career. Do that and the sky’s the limit.”
In closing Adkinson told the crowd, “I can’t tell you how excited and how privileged I am to be here. It’s been a long time and quite honestly, I just want to go to the office and go to work.”