Tallahassee Through the Eyes of a Cop

Tallahassee Through the Eyes of a Cop

TALLAHASSEE – After nearly 30 years patrolling the Tallahassee streets, Mike Blackburn has a unique perspective on the city and how it became the highest ranked for violent crime in Florida.

As much as the capital city has changed over the years, Blackburn, who retired from the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) in May, thinks one of the big reasons for the increase in crime is something that hasn’t changed in all those years – the number of police officers patrolling its streets.

Since 1990, the population of Tallahassee and Leon County has grown roughly 50 percent. Murder in Leon County has gone up a staggering 133 percent since then and forcible sex offences have increased nearly 50 percent, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Total Index of Crimes.

Over his career, Blackburn saw the drug of choice change from crack to meth, saw gangs go from unorganized local groups to national gangs like the Crips and the Bloods and saw the public’s opinion of police change, too often, from respect to disdain.

Yet, with all that’s changed, the number of TPD officers has stayed about the same. “There aren’t many more officers now than there was in ‘88,” he said.

According to TPD, as of July 2016 there are 394 officer positions with only 371 of those positions filled, including trainees.

In 2005, the furthest TPD records go back, there were 342 filled officer positions, that is an 8.5 percent over 10 years. During this period, the City of Tallahassee population increased by approximately 15 percent.

Thirty-three officers are slated to be hired by the end of 2016, but Blackburn thinks that number should be doubled. He said 15 to 20 officers have either just retired or are about to.

“That number just gets us back to where we were,” he said. Blackburn said this lack of officers changed the way law is enforced in Tallahassee and contributed to the recent spike in violent crime.

Blackburn began in the late ‘80s on regular patrol on the south side of town. He later worked in vice and narcotics.

“Back when I first started there was a lot of street enforcement and you had time to get out and do it because we had enough people working,” he explained, “but now, they’re so strapped for manpower that they’re just running from call to call and you can’t get out and enforce anything on the streets. When you don’t have street enforcement you have people out there running around with guns. Every time you turn around someone’s getting shot.”

“Street enforcement is where you stop things. If I saw a 14 year old hanging out on the street corner after midnight, I could get out and talk to him and find out what he was up to.” He explained officers could get guns off the street before they were used to shoot somebody.

Today, many ideas are floating to address the crime issue. Commissioner Curtis Richardson and City Commission candidate Bruce Strouble have both called for Tallahassee to implement a program like Chicago’s Cure Violence model, which treats crime as a health issue.

Blackburn called that “bull.”

“Crime is not a health issue,” Blackburn said, “It’s a behavior. It’s ridiculous for Tallahassee to copy Chicago, which has the highest violent crime rate in the country. Why should we copy failure? If you ask the cops up there, they’ll tell you it’s a failure.”

Blackburn sees a role for community policing but not without street enforcement. While on the force, he participated in TPD’s Problem Oriented Policing (POP) program, which involved lots of interaction with the community combined with enforcement.

He thought overall, “People were more prone to report problems, but you gotta have street enforcement. That’s where you intercept a lot of stuff.” Blackburn added, “You could do a lot. Now our hands are tied.”

Between what he sees as a lack of federal support for police and a media that is quick to convict an officer without the facts, Blackburn feels there is a target on officers’ backs across the country.

Locally, he said things aren’t much better. Recently, a local officer was cleared of wrongdoing in the 2014 death of Duane Strong, but in May of this year, the family still received a $325,000 settlement.

“That sends a message to law enforcement. It makes you think, no matter what I do somebody’s gonna profit off of it.”He said it affects morale. “Nobody has your back anymore. You never know what’s going to happen.”

He explained that by the end of his career, he was constantly looking over his shoulder and every officer made changes to be safer. “I started parking in different places so somebody couldn’t come up on me.”

“I got out at just the right time,” he said. But Blackburn also realizes everyone does not disdain police officers and many go out of their way to show support.

Blackburn said. “I’ve had several people offer to pick up my tab (for a meal or drink) to show support. That didn’t use to happen.” He said that really helps boost morale.

Even with all the negative changes in Tallahassee Blackburn still sees the good.

“There are a lot of decent people out there,” he said.

20 Responses to "Tallahassee Through the Eyes of a Cop"

  1. 42 in a 35 zone. That’s called revenue generation. You probably liked those red light cameras also, didn’t you. Don’t conflate 7 mph with drunk driving Mr. Safety.

  2. TPD lost me years ago with their BS speed traps.

    You are on your own. No support here. You are not heroes because you are cops. You are collecting a paycheck and fat benefits at a job you voluntarily get up and go to every day. Oh, and let your hair grow out a little, you boys aren’t military.

    1. Dirk,
      So called “speed traps” are one way TPD/LCSO make Tally Town safer. Don’t speed, you won’t get “trapped”. Sort of like don’t drink and you won’t get drunk.

  3. God bless our Officers in all shades of uniforms Its a hard job. Getting even harder. Times are getting worse with the lawless coming to our town Thank you men and women who protect our beautiful city. Cynthia O

  4. Sir, thank you, a lot for your many years of service. God bless you and your fellow officers and keep you all safe, in this crazy world we live in.

  5. Check your math, Steve. The scant staffing increase over the last decade should be 8.47 percent, not .08.
    (371-342=29, 29/342=.0847. Multiply by 100 to get percentage.)

    1. Ah. Similar to the grammar police, there’s always one that posts stuff like this, in which it doesn’t change the rationale for the article. Great job, keyboard warrior.

      1. You’re welcome.
        I thought it was an excellent, relevant and timely article. And now accurate too.
        When you fill out your federal taxes next April, try listing your income lower by a factor of 100.
        Let us know how that turns out!

        Any questions, ask the former Lt. Guv.

  6. Each and every one of you has a good point, but none of you has n overall perspective. No, we do not have enough police officers on the streets! In fact we have NO Police officers on the streets, and yes, there is a lot of difference between a policeman and a Law enforcement officer. Law enforcement officers in the Tallahassee arena have created a strong dislike for themselves by not using judgement when making stops and arrests, I know that those of you that are in L.E. think that all laws MUST be followed to the letter and therein lies a lot of the problem. All of the officers that I know personally, and that is quite a few are good and caring people, but they for the most part are preparing to retire, some of them for the very reason that I have mentioned.

  7. We have a civics problem. There is no personal responsibility. Our community leaders, as in our Mayor, spend the majority of their time positioning themselves for higher office. Citizens, many whom are unable to provide for their children, continue to reproduce with no regard for who picks up the cost and cleans uo the carnage created by their children. Too often we see kids having kids. Bring in an enormous amount of outside homeless , then underfund and fail to support law enforcement. Yeah, we are copying Chicago- and most other collasped major US cities. And the band plays on…

  8. This is unconscionable! There is no way law enforcement can properly function when underpaid and understaffed. TalGov, you’d better get your priorities straight before it all goes to XXXX.

      1. Of course they are underpaid…you step in and do what they do for what they are paid and let me know how it goes.

  9. Officer Blackburn is 100% correct. The city has made it harder and harder for LEO’s to do their job. Understaffed by 50 or more,overworked and no support. And paying a thugs family for his bad behavior is outrageous and sends the wrong message. Tpd’s hands are definitely tied. City of Tallahassee government should be embarrassed. #bluelivesmatter

  10. We send police out into the violent streets for 40-50k a year and we have office jockeys making $175,000 a year. Are you listening city commission?

  11. Good information. TPD wastes resources lurking in off campus bars trapping underage drinkers. Let that be the job of FSU campus cops. It seems a money making scheme to extract fines and probation fees from young folks who aren’t our crime problem.

    1. Hey buddy…..you have no idea of what you speak of. TPD doesn’t even patrol bars. When you see officers in bars and clubs, they are off duty jobs.

      1. Off duty jobs they have to have to compensate for their low TPD salaries. I wonder if those are the same bars the $175,000 city managers go to after they leave their 8-10 hour days.

      2. Wrong again pal. There is a task force for the partiers. They may not be as active as they used to be, but they still do it.

    2. Why should any activity by TPD cops be a waste of their time? Campus cops have plenty to do on “campus”. They only have jurisdiction on “campus” and some adjoining properties. So, it really sounds like you just got caught and don’t want to take responsibility for your actions which is selfish and immature. If not, then think bigger. How is it entrapment when someone drinks a beverage that they are not old enough to drink! They get caught, it’s no ones fault but theirs. If TPD has jurisdiction to enforce crimes, then let them do their jobs. Drinking under age at a bar puts everyone at risk, including the owner. Stop thinking about yourself or selfish individuals and start thinking about the community as a whole. If that license gets suspended because of some selfish individual, then the rest of the community can’t patronize that business. It’s not just about you Victor!

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