Society may currently be focused on the Republicans’ and Democrats’ battle for the ballot, but the 2016 presidential election isn’t the only important election within a year’s reach.
Next fall, Orange County voters will head to the polls to choose between two candidates for their county’s sheriff — incumbent Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and retired Sheriff’s Lt. Paul “Spike” Hopkins.
Demings took over as sheriff in 2008 and is running for his third term. Previously, after 21 years of service, he served as chief of the Orlando Police Department and as director of public safety for Orange County. His current strategy for combating crime has four prongs: prevention, intervention, enforcement and prosecution.
This strategy includes investing in Orange County’s children, getting crime guns off the streets, targeting drug dealers and repeat offenders — as Demings said the majority of those who commit crimes are repeat offenders — and better utilizing technology.
“I believe the best way to stop crime from happening in the first place is to educate our children,” Demings said, adding that the majority of crimes in Orange County are committed by young people under the age of 34. “Overall, crime in Orange County has been down 22 percent. … I have a wonderful track record of being able to deliver what I say when I say crime is down.”
In addition, under Demings’ leadership, a voluntary crime-free multi-housing program and certification process was created last year in hopes of getting housing communities involved in crime prevention.
Demings said that currently, three to four apartment complexes in the UCF area have received this certification.
“We train them [with] crime-prevention strategies to make the complexes safer for residents and other people,” Demings said.
Hopkins spent 26 years working for OCSO in specialized units ranging from undercover narcotics and uniform patrol supervisor to serving as a night watch commander and lieutenant trainer.
“It’s a passion to help and serve the community which I grew up in and my family lives in,” Hopkins said.
His main goal is to reduce the number of violent crimes that occur every year and to target gun and drug criminals.
“We average one homicide every week in Orange County, and that’s not just kept in one area of the county. Actually, it expands everywhere from Apopka to UCF to Bithlo to even Windermere, so no one is immune from the violent crime there. … We average one shooting every day in Orange County,” he said.
Hopkins said UCF is included in Zone 22, which also encompasses Avalon Park and Waterford Lakes, and 250,000 people fall in that zone.
“It’s an incredibly big area and they have very little manpower there,” Hopkins said. “Sometimes, on a good day, they’ll get four to five deputies who run that entire area. … The deputies who work there are taxed with a large area and a large population. I am going to put the manpower where they need to be, and that is on the street preventing crime and catching criminals when they do commit crimes. We will have a presence out there that will keep that from happening.”
However, Demings said that with different deputies assigned to different aspects of the area’s coverage — ranging from traffic enforcement and problem-solving to narcotics and undercover agents, as well as detectives assigned to do follow-ups — there are more deputies on patrol than Hopkins said. Demings said the Sheriff’s Office currently holds a biweekly crime control meeting, in which recent crime in different areas of Orange County is analyzed. At these meetings, resources are realigned based on where the biggest needs are.
“There are always many more deputies who respond to calls in that area,” Demings said. “We have the ability to reassign resources.”
As far as the UCF area specifically is concerned, Hopkins’ plan entails giving UCF Police powers anywhere in Orange County so they can be part of any needed manpower outside of UCF’s campus. Currently, UCF PD only has power in its jurisdiction, which includes anywhere within 1,000 feet of campus and off-campus UCF-affiliated student-housing complexes.
“Right now, they don’t have any power outside of the school campus, but I would give that to them,” Hopkins said. “We all need to work together equally to suppress crime and catch these bad guys. … People pay too much money to go to UCF to be the victim of a crime or to live as if they are the prisoners who don’t want to leave their property in fear of being the victim of a crime. If we continue to have such a high crime rate around there, do you not think that people are not going to want to come to UCF just because of the crime? That’s what concerns me.”
However, UCF Police Chief Richard Beary explained in a previous interview that Florida statutes, which set his policing boundaries, “can take years and years and years to work through.”
Currently, UCF PD and OCSO work together to help ensure safety in the UCF area with their Sector II Noise Alcohol Patrols, or SNAP, program. The program, initiated this past April, is a collaborative effort between the two agencies that focuses on targeting dangerous partying behaviors among college students.
“We have seen great success in being able to reduce some of the calls and complaints,” Demings said.
Regardless of which candidate is elected sheriff next year, both have one common focus — safety in Orange County.
“The biggest difference between he and I will be one of experience,” Demings said, noting his leadership roles and experience in Orange County’s law enforcement divisions.
Hopkins said he has tailored his career with OCSO toward getting knowledge and experience he knew he would need to serve as sheriff.
“I’m a cop with a plan; I’m not a politician,” Hopkins said. “From the day I started to my last day on duty, I was a cop first.”
Danielle Hendrix is a News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @ByDaniHendrix or email her at DanielleH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.