Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office seeks diverse input from new citizens advisory board

Sierra Rains
Northwest Florida Daily News

SHALIMAR — The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office is turning to a newly formed group of citizens to seek diverse input on issues of concern in the community. 

Sheriff Eric Aden greeted the members of the OCSO’s new Citizens Advisory Board at its first meeting June 9 in Shalimar. The group consists of about 35 people from across the county who represent a variety of demographics. 

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Members include a farmer from the northern part of the county, a fisherman from Destin, a retired surgeon, a U.S. airman and a stay-at-home mom. 

While Aden said he is familiar with some of the members, the majority are people he has never met before. Aden relied on his command staff to help identify people to be a part of the board.

Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden addresses the OCSO Citizens Advisory Board at its first meeting  June 9.

“I tried to pick people that represented a diverse group that represents our county as a whole because it doesn’t do me any good to have cheerleaders, frankly,” Aden said. “I want people to provide true, unbiased input as to how we can maintain the level of professionalism that we have.”

An advisory board is something Aden said he envisioned well before he was sworn in to office in January. Aden said he began studying the idea in 2019 while attending the FBI Training Academy and saw its potential benefit. 

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“Oftentimes there is a need or a resource that needs to be devoted to an area, and we may not know about it if we’re not out hearing it,” he said.

Talk of such boards began to become widespread in 2020 amid a growing national perception of police that was largely negative. 

Aden said the community has continued to show strong support for law enforcement, but acknowledged that it takes work to keep that strong relationship intact. 

Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden said he began considering a Citizens Advisory Board in 2019, long before he took office in January of this year.

The OCSO Citizens Advisory Board ideally will help bolster that relationship and open a dialogue between law enforcement and citizens, he said. 

“If they have a neighbor, a friend, a family member that they feel were treated poorly by a law enforcement officer, then let us know. If they think that they were commendable, then let us know,” Aden said. “That continued dialogue both ways is what keeps us successful.”

It took about six months for the board to become a reality, which Aden said was due to things such as the transition in administration, personnel changes and taking the time to put together a truly diverse group. 

Before their first meeting, several members went on ride-alongs with some of the deputies to get a taste for what their day-to-day jobs are like. 

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Aden also shared with the group some of the challenges the agency faces, such as recruiting amid declining interest in the field. The group also discussed issues the Sheriff’s Office is tackling such as the opioid crisis and overdose deaths. 

The floor was opened for questions and answers at the end of the meeting, and the group spent about an hour discussing various ideas and concerns. 

One idea Aden said he plans to implement is "audio dictation." That was a suggestion to help deputies tasked with completing several written reports lighten their workload in order to focus on other areas. 

“It really went well,” Aden said. “We had a great representation the first go around, and a lot of people had a lot of interest and input, which was nice.”

A 25-year old Crestview man was arrested at this address in August by the Okaloosa County Multi-Agency Drug Task Force as it continues its efforts to combat illegal narcotics.

The OCSO Citizens Advisory Board plans to meet quarterly, or as needed. Each board member also has been given a direct line of communication with Aden, Chief Deputy Kenneth LaPee and Undersheriff Charlie Nix.  

The next meeting likely will be held in October or November at the OCSO’s new training center and shooting range in Crestview. 

There, the board members will get a chance to undergo the MILO Range Simulation Training. The training takes them through a virtual simulation in which they can experience what it’s like to make split-second decisions in deadly force scenarios. 

“We’ve got a diverse board that we feel is a good board that can kind of move forward and get this off the ground,” Aden said. “It will be evolving throughout the existence of it, and the success of it is really going to rely on the communication between the board, the citizens and us.”