St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar served as the keynote speaker at the Ponte Vedra Republican Club’s monthly meeting Aug. 3, discussing the growth of the county and some of the challenges facing his office, including sexual predators and the Opioid epidemic.
Held at the American Legion in Palm Valley, Shoar cited the high average annual household income, low taxes and high quality of life indicators as reasons for the county’s growth.
“I always tell people when I talk about St. Johns County, ‘There are two kinds of people in the world: those that live in St. Johns County, and those that want to live in St. Johns County,’” said Shoar, who has served as sheriff of the county for 12 years.
One of the challenges that Shoar cited is a growing problem with sexual predators from out-of-state targeting minors in the county.
“I made a vow when I got elected...as long as I’m in the seat, in the office, the two groups that we’re going to have to focus on more than any are our children and senior citizens,” he said. “Why? They’re the most vulnerable people in our community.”
Shoar also outlined the challenge of a growing drug addiction problem across the county. There has been an increasing number of incidents involving injectable drugs such as heroin, he said. The St. Johns County Fire and Rescue Department responded to 47 overdose incidents last year.
He said the county has responded by implementing the use of Narcan, a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Every deputy now carries Narcan, and since the program was deployed in May 2017, Shoar estimates they have already had 12 lifesaving incidents.
He added that he would like to see mandated drug treatment for those with a history of two or more Narcan applications. However, Florida does not have the resources for such treatment, he said.
“We’re 50th when it comes to funding for mental illness,” explained Shoar. “Substance abuse and mental illness…these two phenomena occupy 60 percent of a cop’s daily duties.”
Shoar said that during his time as sheriff, he has not usually had a problem with Jacksonville residents as a source of crime in St. Johns County, but he now sees that changing. A string of recent car thefts has been attributed to criminals from Duval County, he noted. In many cases, Shoar explained the cars haven’t even been locked.
He explained that efforts are being made to use technology in the form of license plate readers to track down criminals. License plate readers are cameras that scan license plate numbers, record them and run them through a database to identify wanted criminals. Shoar said the county implemented one camera as a test case, and on the second day of use, deputies identified and located a suspect wanted in Wisconsin for arson and homicide.
Shoar also indicated two areas often used to measure the success of a law enforcement agency in which he would like to see improvement: response time and officer to population ratios. The sheriff’s department aims to lower response time to five minutes or less in all areas of St. Johns County, he said. Response time is currently higher in the northeast and northwest quadrants of the county, where population growth has been highest.
Shoar noted that the current law enforcement to population ratio in the county is 1.18 deputies for every 1,000 people. The recommendation is 1.9 per 1,000. The sheriff cited budgetary reasons for the discrepancy. Last year, the county added 12 deputies. He has requested 18 additional deputies for 2018.
Beyond facts and figures, Shoar said it is difficult to quantify the positive interactions that occur every day between officers and the public they serve.
“Law enforcement gets up every day to try and do one thing: that is, to lessen the suffering of our fellow humans,” he said.