On the Destin beat: Traffic tips and unsolved mysteries along highway 98

Laura Hall, Under the Radar
Do not mess with this Sergeant, she WILL bring you down.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Regular Log contributor Laura Hall recently linked up with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office for a ride-along on the Destin beat. She then penned a three part series on the experience.

After filling out the proper paperwork I am given permission to ride along with Sergeant Shannon Tait of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. 

I want to understand the responsibilities of our local law enforcement agency in Destin. We all know that Highway 98 has been called “Bloody 98.” I didn’t understand that moniker until I had lived here for a number of years.

I ask Tait what would be her best advice to local drivers to avoid these accidents.  Tait emphatically replies, “To avoid accidents, pay attention to the road.  You look away for a minute or reach over for a cell phone and that’s all it takes for a crash. The traffic here is so thick; people are stopping quickly, not sure where to make that turn.  Inattentiveness is the cause of most of the traffic accidents we have here in Destin.”

I ask Tait the necessary requirements to join the Sheriff’s Office?  “To be considered for the position of deputy you must have graduated from high school or have a GED equivalent and you must be a graduate of the Police Academy training classes at Northwest Florida State College. The academy teaches a specific training for police work including defensive tactics, how to subdue and how to use your handcuffs.”

I am mesmerized by the belt worn by all the officers. It has one of everything important to an officer attached to it and weighs in at 26 pounds! Listen to this… gun, Glock 40 caliber, pepper spray, two extra magazine clips of bullets, cell phone, radio, expandable baton, flashlight “O” ring to hold flashlight at night. As if this wasn’t enough, there is a pouch on the back with medical gloves, a pair of handcuffs and keys to offices and patrol car. I ask what is the most important thing on that belt?  The answer after a moment’s contemplation,  “Radio and gun.” 

Having watched too many police movies, I am amazed to see that each officer rides alone in their car.  Sgt. Tait says, “You will never see a double in the cars around here because of lack of manpower and budget constraints.  Our agency has not had a raise in five years. The fact that we have not had more injuries or deaths in the line of duty is amazing.”

The horrific statistic is that in the last four years, three local officers have died in the line of duty.

“I have said we ride alone, but this is a team thing,” Tait added. “If I try to play this out on my own, I’m in trouble. You have to depend on your backup officers when you need them.” 

I am riding with the sergeant from 2-6 p.m. 

We have a relatively quiet ride with a report of several car crashes.

“Everyday is different,” she said. “You don’t know what to expect.” 

In the middle of the afternoon, a report comes in that a gun has been stolen from a car.  Serial number of the gun is taken and the status of the gun, “stolen”, remains in the files until such time as the gun is located, if ever. 

This report is followed by a 911 call from a female in a Destin apartment complex — exact location not given, reason for call, not given. Any 911 call must be checked out, but attempts to recall the phone number go unanswered. 

We slowly circle the apartment complex and check around the pool area for a disturbance.  Nothing shows up, so we move on. Another call comes in from a rental complex.  This caller is also female and she requests help from law enforcement to No. 18. The male voice in the background says, “She does not need help.” The phone caller hangs up.

The race is on to the complex and upon arrival No. 18 is found to be nonexistent. This is maddening and frustrating, but Tait doesn’t give up. She and a deputy try a knock on the door to unit No. 218, just in case. No response.  Doing what they can to locate the caller, Tait thinks to ask for the area code of the cell phone call. Turns out it is from Kentucky. We circle the complex looking for a Kentucky car. No luck this time, no Kentucky car in the complex. The search is given up and my afternoon ride time is coming to a close.

Before leaving Tait, I ask her, “What do you feel is your greatest responsibility?” 

“To make sure yourself and your zone partners all go home alive at the end of the day.”     

Laura Hall is a longtime Destin resident. She writes about local topics of interest. Contact her at hall-destin@cox.net