Brevard County Sheriff Candidate
by Eric Wright
When discussing the key elements necessary for building a healthy and vibrant business community, one cannot overlook the central role law enforcement plays in that equation. Just as learning is dependent on a teacher being able to maintain control of the class, the first cornerstone of economic development is making the area safe for people of all ages. Wayne Ivey has spent his career designing and implementing innovative programs to not only apprehend criminals, but also to prevent crimes from ever happening. Now he is turning that experience toward the position of Brevard County Sheriff.
SCB: Your campaign seems to have a focus on making Brevard not only a safe environment for its citizens, but also for its businesses. Explain the rationale behind that partnership.
WI: When a person is making a decision to move to a community, one of the things they check – just like property prices and the school system – is the local crime rates. Therefore, when discussing economic development, crime is one of the issues we have to consider. And unfortunately the economy and crime are connected much like an elevator cable – when one is down the other goes up.
My primary goal is to keep you from ever becoming the victim of a crime. We have a great and well-trained group of detectives and officers who can work the case and solve the crime once it has happened, but you’re still a victim. We want to take advantage of every tool at our disposal today to ensure you have the information you need to protect yourself, whether that is from violent crime or identify theft; to that end, education is the key. If we can educate our community on the steps they can take to protect themselves, then we are empowering them against being a victim of crime.
SCB: So how do you go about creating a crime prevention culture, much like the medical community is shifting from just focusing on curing a condition to preventing the condition from arising?
WI: Historically, law enforcement was somewhat territorial with information and at times there was good reason. We needed to guard information as we were building our case. But now we have the ability to disseminate pertinent knowledge, using tools like Facebook, Twitter or text messaging, which give us an immediate conduit to provide people with vital data. Imagine (and this is happening in some places right now) if we are having a rash of burglaries in an area to be able to alert all the residents who live in that community, who are signed up to our website or text message service so they would be notified. “Keep your cars locked or garage doors down.” Imagine if we could alert you that a sex offender has moved into your neighborhood without you having to check a website.
SCB: How far are we away from having that kind of resource?
WI: A flip of the switch and we’re there. We simply aren’t using it yet. Right now a local police agency can have their own TV channel at incredibly low prices; where we can announce, “At 8:30 we will have a broadcast on ‘Identity Theft,’ at 9:00 there will be a program on ‘Self Defense through mental preparedness.” This would be an electronic crime prevention program.
We want to maintain that one-on-one, personal and physical connection to the community, but it isn’t either/or, it is both/and, if used effectively as one seamless program it could be incredibly effective.
SCB: And there is then a ripple effect to the business community?
WI: Everyone in the community is a shareholder in crime prevention and safety. What we have to do is get everyone working together on that mission. For instance, the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI have both said, ‘Identity Theft is the fastest growing crime in the country.’ That crime affects all of us at every place we do business. The FTC did a poll asking what crime Americans were most concerned about, Identity Theft was #1. When we talk about crime prevention, we are talking about arming our citizens and our business owners against this problem, so that the businesses become the first line of defense the individual has.
SCB: What are the top things a business can do so that they are not a victim or a facilitator of identity theft?
WI: First, be vigilant in your control of your information, which most businesses are. But treat your customers’ information as though it was your own. We go to great lengths to protect our property from being broken into; we have to do the same thing with our personal information and the personal information of others. Secondly, you have to screen your employees. We know that often these compromises come from a “mole” that takes and sells sensitive information to others. Finally, have the ability to recognize when a compromise has occurred. You must be proactive and reactive in your approach.
SCB: How do you recognize a mole?
WI: The larger the company the more difficult the containment, especially when you consider that your HR departments have information, not only on you, but your spouse. Often, when we are making a large retail purchase, the salesperson will begin by saying, “Let’s go ahead and get you preapproved;” to do that they get information, Social Security numbers or a drivers license. The company might have very strict protocols, but there is nothing to prevent that individual from taking your information and selling it. In the Economic Crimes area there are so many ways we can be targeted.
SCB: Is dealing with economic crime a focus as you think of allocating manpower if you’re elected?
WI: We have to find a balance. It is paramount to keep people physically safe. If you had to choose between being a victim of armed robbery or ID theft, it is obvious which one we would choose – one is life threatening the other is life changing. So we have to make stopping people who would do physical harm our first priority. However, currently in Brevard there is no Economic Crimes Task Force. One of my goals is to focus some existing resources coupled with partnerships with our local agencies.
For instance, we took the G.A.M.E.O.V.E.R. Task Force, which involved local police departments giving us one person, FDLE contributing one person, along with personnel from the Sheriff’s office to focus on people that we knew were violent criminals, the “Worst of the Worst” – what we call “W.O.W.” You’ll find I love a good acronym (laughing). Those seven agents, in three years have arrested over 700 violent felons, with less overtime than any other unit in operation. Why? Because they were drawing resources and sharing resources; when a city gives us one officer, they are actually getting six back! When they have that homicide and they need that team to come in to assist, they are getting six resources for one.
SCB: Can we do the same thing on the economic crime side as well?
WI: We have to, not just I.D. theft, but credit card and other scams; unfortunately our seniors are the primary targets of these types of scams. We have to educate our community and our police officers on how to prevent and prosecute these crimes. Last time I checked the police academy had just a 2-hour block on identity theft. In the past 3 years I have trained nearly 5,000 officers in how to investigate I.D. theft cases. Currently, and this is scary, only 1 in 700 of those investigated go to jail.
SCB: Why is it so difficult to prosecute these cases?
WI: As I said earlier, stopping violent criminals has to take precedence in investigating, prosecuting and in sentencing. If I rob a bank, the national average for the amount taken in a bank robbery is $3,000, plus I am on video, alarms are being sounded, the police are coming and I may have to use my weapon, all for $3000. If I go into the same bank and use a stolen credit card, the national average is that it will be 12 months before it is even detected and there’s only a 1 in 700 chance I’ll go to jail. Same with sentencing, the economy is driving outcomes. We only have so much space, so who must we put behind bars?
I was once asked, “If you could wave the magic wand and do one thing to solve the crime problem, what would you do?” Simple, build more jails, because we will fill them up. There is a small percentage of the population who commit crime; most people are good law abiding citizens. If we are successful at keeping that small percentage locked up, we will not solve, but certainly contain the problem.
SCB: Is there a greater sense of cooperation within the law enforcement community than you see in say regulatory or permitting departments as you cross municipal lines?
WI: In Brevard County there certainly is and I have worked all over the state with the FDLE. That gave me a lot of exposure to the best and the worst practices in departments across Florida. The agencies working within this county have some of the greatest cooperative components I’ve ever seen. Not just law enforcement, but in public safety as a whole. The Chiefs of Police work great together, they lend resources to each other; the Sheriff and the Department Heads of municipal departments meet quarterly to talk about solutions and sharing capabilities to make this a better place to live, so we have a seamless delivery of services. In fact, once a month we have the Chief’s Dinner, where all the police chiefs and the Sheriff get together just to get to know each other so that when a need arises you aren’t calling a stranger. It is one mission, one team.
SCB: What are some of the cost saving steps you can see in the future to do more with less?
WI: Forming these cooperative task forces is a major step in helping all the county departments. But another avenue we’re pursuing is utilizing the wealth of retired police officers from around the nation – who have a depth of experience and familiarity with basic police procedures – that are living in the area and want to help. They are assisting us in everything from organizing cases to helping with search and rescue operations or crime scene searches. Like the hospital volunteers, these individuals can greatly help and enable our officers to concentrate on other high priority tasks.
SCB: Sheriff Jack Parker has been a very popular and effective Sheriff; how does it feel to be running for the position he has held?
WI: Whoever is elected to that office is stepping into some very big shoes and no one knows that better than I do. I don’t think there is a board I serve on that Sheriff Parker isn’t a crucial member of. It has been an incredible boost to my campaign having his endorsement. It means more to me personally and professionally than I can say; he is a truly great individual and great community leader.
A respected author and speaker, Eric Wright is the assignment editor for SpaceCoast Business magazine.