TALLAHASSEE – Although he won’t be sworn in until January 3, Sheriff-elect Walt McNeil is already taking steps to implement his vision for the Leon County Sheriff’s office.
“I’m in and out of there now,” said McNeil, “beginning at 5 a.m., in meetings throughout the day.”
He said he’s meeting with deputies, staff and other county leaders and developing relationships with those he’ll be working closely. He has sat down with staff, trying to know every employee as best as possible. He also met with State Attorney – elect Jack Campbell, the public defender, Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo and the chiefs of the city’s two universities, among others.
“There’s a lot of moving parts,” McNeil said. “But, right now, I’m trying to improve relationships with other law enforcement agencies and staff, sharing my vision for the Sheriff’s office.”
His vision is ambitious — “to be the best law enforcement agency in the world.”
During the campaign, McNeil repeatedly blamed the crime rate in Leon county -the highest in the state for the last two years – on the incumbent Sheriff Mike Wood. Critics said this was unfair because the high crime rate was driven by incidents within the City of Tallahassee.
However, McNeil said on the campaign trail that City of Tallahassee crime can be addressed by better communication between law enforcement officials and more efficient use of Sheriff Office resources.
McNeil said he will work to lower Tallahassee’s high crime rate by what he calls predictive policing. “We focus on individuals who are known to be involved in crime and make sure we interdict with them rather than waiting for the crime to occur,” McNeil said.
He said his meetings are opportunities for him to listen as well as talk. He said the discussions are very candid and he is taking suggestions and comments into consideration.
McNeil said he is “tickled by the line officers and dedicated employees.” He said he is also impressed by citizens who “talk glowingly about the office’s customer service.”
He said by Jan. 3, there will be no surprises. He expects to get right to work on day one. “By then, I certainly won’t be a stranger,” McNeil said
McNeil, 60, was chief of the Tallahassee Police Department from 1997 to 2007 and then secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice. He also served as Quincy police chief before his run for sheriff. He defeated three other opponents during the sheriff’s race, including the current sheriff, Mike Wood, who was appointed following the death of long-time sheriff Larry Campbell.