Interview: Morgan has focused on gangs and guns since taking office

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan yesterday told the media that he doesn’t see the need for special regional task force on gun-related crimes, which Mayor Grover Robinson is trying to form.

In an exclusive interview, Morgan told Inweekly that his agency has always had a task force on gangs and gun-related crimes. We first reported on his gang unit in 2009 that worked with Attorney General Bob McCollum’s office (“They’re Heere,” 4/2/09).

“In ’09, we were facing not only an uptick in gun crimes, but also we were the first administration to start identifying gangs and gang activity in Escambia County and, of course, those two are kind of a hand-in-glove situation,” said the sheriff. “We had three FDLE agents assigned and working with us initially. And I think I had six people at one time.”

He added, “As we progressed in our cataloging and identification of gangs and other criminal activity associated with gangs–the associated drugs, et cetera–the force was kind of pared down due to other operational requirements, but it never went away.”

As the unit was reduced, FDLE embedded an agent with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office for approximately two years.

“That FDLE agent was finally reassigned and we went down to about three people,” said Morgan. “And we’ve consistently had three or more people assigned to a task force, and my folks continue to keep up to date on gangs, gang activity and weapons associated with that.”

As I reported yesterday, Sheriff Morgan spearheaded in 2012 a gun crime response task force that involved the city, state and federal law enforcement.

What was behind that effort?

“That was in response to the uptick of homicide and we started to catalog a growing number of violent crimes involving weapons,” said the sheriff. “We wanted to, again, reach out and partner with those folks that could provide a faster turnaround.”

What has changed since?

“We’ve developed a tremendous amount of capabilities on our own, as well as Florida Department of Law Enforcement. So what I can’t do in-house, I literally drive down the street to on Palafox to the FDLE headquarters and their lab and their lab capability is, you know, probably as good as any place you can go,” he said.

“But back in 2012, we reached out because of the ATF’s ability to turn things around and also in partnering with some warrant service with US Marshals,” said Morgan. “We continue to have a very active relationship with those two organizations.”

How would you describe the gun use or gun-related crimes today? Is the situation better or worse or what kind of activity or you’re all seeing?

“It’s hard to put a finger on that. And the reason why is that thing is, it’s … when you attempt to define it, it could change in the next 60 seconds, literally on us,” said the sheriff.

Law enforcement has been traditionally superstitious about crime statistics, he explained. Whatever an agency brags about its crime rates, something happens the statistics worsen.

“Right now I would say that we’re keeping with kind of a norm in Escambia County, if there is such a thing, meaning it’s not up and it’s not down,” Morgan shared cautiously. “We normally average somewhere between 12 and 16 or 17 homicides a year. A good year is when you get less than that. A bad year is when you go over that.”

The sheriff said that his agency tracks trends, not statistics.

“If a trend is going in the wrong direction, that’s something that I now need to notice. Is there an uptick in property crimes? Burglaries, home invasions, those sorts of things, sex crimes. So we re-martial forces and focus on those things within, again, the sheriff’s office when that happens,” he said.

Before the sheriff reaches out to an outside agency, such as the Department of Justice, he prefers to partner locally first.

“I would look to partner with the Pensacola Police Department on many things, if it involves patrol and traffic and those sorts of things, and even investigations, narcotics,” he said. “We can certainly commission those folks and work into an operation with them. And then that way we can combine our forces for short periods of time.

The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office has also partnered with FDLE, the Florida Highway Patrol and Fish and Wildlife.

“We usually try to keep it in-house, and we’ll coordinate most of those efforts with the State Attorney’s office because, ultimately, regardless of what agency conducts the initial investigations, we always lateral that ball to the state attorney,” he said. “We need to make sure that they’re kept on the information loop for all these things that we do.”