State Attorney Jack Campbell, Police Chief Steve Outlaw, and Sheriff Walt McNeil spoke on a panel at the Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates (NEBA) meeting on November 19th. They discussed Tallahassee’s crime rate, the Syringe Exchange Program, marijuana reform, and homelessness.
Campbell, Outlaw, and McNeil opened the meeting by discussing how they are addressing Tallahassee’s crime rate.
“We are working across disciplines, across law enforcement partnerships, across state lines to do what we can to drive down crime in this community,” McNeil said.
“We can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” Outlaw added. He said law enforcement is working with social agencies to prevent crime by helping people develop values.
The first question for the panel was how to prevent crime. Outlaw said crime trends are decreasing, but he said citizens should pay attention to their neighborhoods and lock their doors.
“It’s surprising the amount of burglaries, auto burglaries, that we have just based on people leaving their cars unlocked, and they’re getting wallets, they’re getting laptops, they’re getting firearms,” he said.
Campbell, Outlaw, and McNeil were then asked about the details of the proposed Syringe Exchange Program in Leon County. The basis of the program is exchanging drug users’ contaminated needles with new, sterile needles.
Campbell said the program will not grant participants immunity from legal problems. McNeil added that he does not believe the program will lower crime rates, but it will help prevent infectious diseases from spreading.
The next question addressed why Campbell’s office is no longer prosecuting certain marijuana cases.
Campbell said the decision came from a cost-benefit analysis, noting that distinguishing between lawful hemp and illegal marijuana is expensive and requires lab work.
“It’s more important for us to be handling the violent crimes,” Campbell said.
Campbell, Outlaw, and McNeil all said they do not support an amendment to legalize marijuana.
The meeting concluded with a discussion on the Tallahassee homeless rate and the intersection of mental illness and criminality.
“The criminal justice system is an inappropriate mental health facility,” Campbell said. He noted that mental health counseling is frequently being carried out by law enforcement officials.
“It’s not our responsibility to be a mental health provider,” McNeil said.
He added that 34 percent of incarcerated people in the community suffer from mental health problems, and there needs to be a system in place for handling them.
McNeil said law enforcement officials will continue discussing a solution for the issue in the future.