Key Takeaways from Tallahassee Tiger Bay Public Safety Forum

If public safety is a test, the capital and county passed with flying colors, according to assessments by regional leaders who are on the front lines of the fight for criminal justice.

Police Chief Lawrence Revell, Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil, Public Defender Jessica Yeary and District Attorney Jack Campbell were asked to rate public safety in the community during the Capital Tiger Bay Club's most recent meeting. All gave it an A, except for Yeary, who gave the city a B.

The four politicians were questioned Wednesday afternoon about drugs, high-tech policing and community trust. Here are three takeaways from the panel's lunchtime discussion.

Marijuana and fentanyl are the most dangerous drugs on our streets

When it comes to the question of which drug is the most dangerous in a society, Revell says there are two answers, depending on how you define the word “dangerous.”

Marijuana has long been a major driver of violent crime in the community, and therefore increases the danger on the streets. But the lethality of fentanyl is far more concerning and will soon be a very real problem in Tallahassee, Revell said.

“We haven't seen the devastating impact of fentanyl calls that other communities have seen, but it's coming,” he said. “We're doing everything we can to prepare for it now and do what we can.”

Yeary did not agree that drugs were the main problem. He countered that trauma was the biggest problem facing the justice system.

“If we don't start recognizing the generational cycles and considering how people got into this situation, we'll be sitting here talking about the same problem again,” she said.

However, McNeil agreed with Revell that marijuana is responsible for the crimes his officers deal with on a daily basis, saying his “biggest fear when it comes to drugs is fentanyl.”

Campbell added that Tallahassee has a large, experimental young population at risk because of Florida State University and Florida A&M University. They become easy targets for armed robberies, in the case of marijuana transactions and for drugs that may be laced with fentanyl, he said.

“(The coroner) will tell you there are probably three to four fentanyl overdose deaths a month right now,” Campbell said.

The Real-Time Crime Center has changed the way law enforcement is conducted in the capital and the county

The Capital Region Real-Time Crime Center in Tallahassee opened in February 2023, and nearly a year and a half later, law enforcement officials are still praising it.

The capital region's “nerve center” is equipped with more than 1,000 cameras, an active service calls map, and continuous data collection by FSU researchers and students.

“I can't tell you how important it is to our crime fighting efforts here in Tallahassee and Leon County to have these cameras in places where we can see criminals actually committing crimes,” McNeil said. “This is a game changer for us.”

There are numerous examples of murders that were solved within four to six hours thanks to access to technology such as video cameras and license plate readers, Revell said.

For this reason, the center wants to connect more cameras from businesses and homeowners to the center to help law enforcement solve even more crimes.

Earlier this month, the Democrat reported that the TPD was launching a program called “Connect Tallahassee” that would allow businesses and citizens to voluntarily give the TPD access to surveillance cameras and their recordings to assist in investigations.

Law enforcement agencies notice more trust from the population

While there may still be some reluctance among the public to share information that could help solve crimes, Revell and McNeil, law enforcement leaders, said trust appears to have increased over the years.

Revell said the relationship between Tallahassee police and the community has gotten “much, much better” over the past four or five years, and McNeil said the Leon County Sheriff's Office has worked very hard to build what he believes is a strong relationship with the people of Leon County.

But Yeary and Campbell said problems remained.

Yeary said that clients represented by the public defender's office are often victims of crime themselves and are therefore reluctant to disclose information because “there is no understanding of what they have been through.”

“Then when they return to the system, they don't get services or their own trauma, their own victimhood isn't acknowledged,” Yeary said. “I think that plays a big role.”

Campbell said he's also noticed that people are much more reluctant to talk about what's happening in the community. He said he spends a lot of time trying to convince people, especially students, to talk about what's happening when solving crimes.

Nowadays, people would stand around and film a crime instead of actually intervening, he added.

“I hate that I solve more crimes through electronic eyes than through humans,” Campbell said. “We work hard to get into the communities to work on those relationships.”

Breaking and trending news reporter Elena Barrera can be reached at Follow her on X: @elenabarreraaa.

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