The Walton County Sheriff’s Office saw many victories in 2013: Operation Turkey Hunt, in which 10 individuals were apprehended in an undercover child sex sting, and multiple meth lab busts.
But a lot of the media coverage swirled around the sheriff's crackdown on spring break, with the biggest moment being a house party bust that yielded 32 arrests.
"When you think about it, we have Bay County on one side that has a population of 170,000 and Okaloosa on the other side with a quarter of a million people," said Sheriff Mike Adkinson. "In Walton County, we have a population of 60,000, which increases to three million during tourism season."
But the sheriff's office does more than hand out citations to underage breakers.
"We do a pretty good job of handling the big stuff," he said. "We solved every homicide case we dealt with and we have one of the best VICE units in the state. We are known as a premier agency in Northwest Florida. We want to be the premier agency in the state. That’s not too much to ask.”
As a 17-year law enforcement veteran and a native of Walton County, Adkinson has a deep understanding of the issues the county faces every day.
“Drug addiction, mental illness, prevention against crime — those are monster issues.”
Last November, The Sun reported on Walton County’s battle against meth labs — the more popular drug of choice in the county. Despite numerous press releases about meth lab busts, the problem still persists.
“There are a lot of folks that are addicted to these substances,” he said. “What we need is drug rehabilitation clinics. But a sheriff can’t solve that.”
Many repeat offenders need help more than anything else.
“I had one lady in my office screaming at me,” Adkinson said. “Someone asked me what I was going to do, but I said, ‘She’s not mad at me. She’s mad because she can’t get help.’ I can’t give people drug treatments.”
On the prevention side of things, the sheriff said he would like to spend more of 2014 informing the public how to protect themselves. He recalls one case in which a string of car burglaries alarmed a neighborhood.
“All of them were unlocked vehicles,” Adkinson said.
While the guilty parties were successfully arrested, the sheriff said the likelihood of those cars being burglarized again were high.
"We'll do anything to minimize the re-victimization," he said.
In 2014, Adkinson said he'd like to dedicate more time to making WCSO more accountable and efficient. The sheriff is already making good on that resolution by adapting the CompStat model, a system originated in the New York City police department in 1994. The CompStat is a performance management system that synthesizes analysis of crime and disorder data, and provides strategic problem solving tools and a clear accountability structure.
"We're already seeing results," Adkinson said.
As for efficiency, the sheriff credits his deputies, staff and the group of 30 volunteers known as the Sheriff's Posse for their hard work.
"They do a jam-up job; I'm really proud of what they're doing," he said of the posse.
New this year will also be the implementation of a DeFuniak Springs office for the Emerald Coast Children's Advocacy Center, which provides services to victims of child abuse in Okaloosa and Walton County. The project is near and dear to Adkinson's heart.
"I've been trying to get this built for three or four years now," he said. "My goal was to see it built while I was sheriff.”
WCSO has donated more than $100,000 to the cause. Most fundraisers hosted by WCSO benefit children and the elderly — the same group Adkinson says is his priority in 2014.
"You just gotta do it because it's right," he said. "I'm really going to push to prevent scams against the elderly and to help parents be cognizant of their children's online activity. That's the world we live in unfortunately."
When it comes to looking at the best way to handle crime in an area, the sheriff said looking at what works and doesn't is crucial. This year, like any other, will be dedicated to improving.
"You can't be afraid to fail," he said. "We don't always get it right, but we do a damn good job."