Special Report: How Safe Are We In East Central Florida?

Headline Surfer multimedia video and photos by Henry Frederick / Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma is interviewed in this multimedia presentation highlighting a triple-murder-suicide carried out by Henry Brown who killed his estranged wife and their two small kids in separate incidents on the same day before killing himself on April 17, 2016, a day the lawman will never forget. For Lemma, his transparency as to that fateful day as the anomaly to what is actually a very safe county. This juxtaposed to Mike Chitwood, Lemma's counterpart in neighboring Volusia County (as shown in still photos above), the decade-long police chief in Daytona who ran for sheriff in 2016 and won, taking office in 2017. Just 20 days into his elected post, Chitwood, in an unmarked car was pulled over by one of his own deputies for speeding, and in typical politician form, lied to the media about the circumstances, including how fast he was really going. Just who leads county law enforcement can shed a lot of light on public safety — real or imagined.
 
How Safe logo / Headline SurferPosted: 2019-06-05 - 19:45:14
 
By HENRY FREDERICK
Headline Surfer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Never in his worst nightmare did Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett ever dream he'd make national headlines of his own 3 1/2 years after a jury in Seminole County acquitted George Zimmerman of second-degree murder in the 2012 shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

But that's exactly what happened when Sanford's mayor was robbed at gunpoint of his wallet and carjacked.

"Being a victim of a crime is unnerving, yet it was reassuring to witness both speed and diligence from the Sanford Police Department," Triplett told Headline Surfer. "This wasn't something I expected I would find myself in which was pretty frightening."

Still, though, Triplett thinks Sanford is a relatively safe city despite what happened to him, which he sees as an isolated incident and not reflective of daily life in this quaint tourism city in Seminole County, about 25 miles northeast of Orlando and just under 40 miles southwest of Daytona Beach.

Which brings us to the question: How safe are we in East Central Florida?

When asked to venture a guess as to which of the three cities along the tourism stretch of the I-4 corridor is the most dangerous over the past half-decade, Triplett said, "It has to be Orlando. After all, it is the biggest of the three cities and Orlando had the Pulse nightclub massacre."

Mayor carjacked / Headline SurferPulse massacre / Headline SurferWhen asked to venture a guess as to which of the three cities along the tourism stretch of the I-4 corridor is the most dangerous over the past half-decade, Triplett (shown here) said, "It has to be Orlando. After all, it is the biggest of the three cities and Orlando had the Pulse nightclub massacre."

And asked which of the three cities he believed was likely the safest during the same period of time, Triplett answered, "I may be partial, but I would say it's Sanford. Daytona seems to be in the news a lot more than here."

There is no right or wrong answer as to which city is the most dangerous or the safest, but statistically speaking when crunching stats for violent crimes, Daytona Beach has proven itself a far more dangerous city to live in than Orlando or Sanford, said Palmer Wilson, a law enforcement consultant who lives in New Smyrna Beach, about 20 miles south of Daytona.

And while Sanford had the high profile Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case and Orlando the Pulse massacre, there hasn't been a  major crime in Daytona that has made national headlines in a decade or more, and yet it is considered a more dangerous city to live in, Wilson said. 

"It's not the sensationalism of a crime situation that measures how safe or dangerous a city is as much as the frequency of violent crimes," said Wilson, a retired lieutenant with the Montgomery County (Md) Police Department. "Daytona has had more violent incidents more frequently and those figures add up over time."

Palmer Wilson / Headline SurferThere is no right or wrong answer as to which city is the most dangerous or the safest, but statistically speaking when crunching stats for violent crimes, Daytona Beach has proven itself a more dangerous a city to live in than Orlando or Sanford, said Palmer Wilson (shown here), a law enforcement consultant who lives in New Smyrna Beach, about 20 miles south of Daytona.

And while Sanford had the high profile Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case and Orlando the Pulse massacre, there hasn't been a  major crime in Daytona that has made national headlines in a decade or more, and yet it is considered a more dangerous city to live in, Wilson said. 

"It's not the sensationalism of a crime situation that measures how safe or dangerous a city is as much as the frequency of violent crimes," said Wilson, a retired lieutenant with the Montgomery County (Md) Police Department. "Daytona has had more violent incidents more frequently and those figures add up over time."

Wilson said Daytona Beach has more tourism events on the calendar than its counterparts in Sanford and Orlando, most of them built into the city itself with annual events like Speedweeks that culminates with the Daytona 500, Bike Week, Spring Break, the Cole Zero 400 race in July, Biketoberfest in October and the Turkey Run during the extended Thanksgiving holiday weekend. 

Of course, Orlando, the City Beautiful, is a global tourism magnet for incoming families with Disney and the Attractions: Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, Disney's Magic Kingdom Park, Universal Studios Florida, Epcot, Universal's Islands of Adventure, Sea World and many more. And there's a day trip to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex along the Atlantic coastline in Brevard County.

Sanford, and Seminole County as a whole, also has some great offerings for tourists, primarily families and retirees from other parts of the US and Canada, such as boating and fishing on the St. Johns River and more than a dozen lakes, including Lake Monroe with its extensive scenic boardwalk. Plus, there's the quaintness of the Central Florida Zoo.   

Daytona, on the other hand, has attracted a far rowdier crowd - bikers, college kids, hard-core racing fans. And there's little breaks between event after event where partying with the draw of booze and boobs.

Headline Surfer videos 

"The current sheriff, Mike Chitwood, has been a media favorite since he arrived in Daytona Beach and developed his signature name for those who have run afoul of the law, even if arrested and charged - 'Scumbag,'" Wilson said.

"So the onus has never really been on him in terms of the management style - or lack thereof — in quelling violent crime in a decaying city with few decent-wage earning jobs because the TV stations in Orlando count on his outrageous indictments of others for ratings and the newspapers as well for front page headlines to keep subscriptions up."

Jim Gillum, a retired sheriff from Pasco County, living in DeLand, who was among five candidates in the primary for sheriff here, concurred.

"Mike Chitwood is far more style than he is about substance," Gillum said.

Chitwood did not return numerous calls and messages for this story. Chitwood, who won the primary outright, succeeded Ben Johnson, who opted for retirement after 16 years as sheriff. And Chitwood's TV camera idolatry persona, has allowed him a free pass from media scrutiny, almost from the start of his reign as sheriff.

Sheriff Mike Chitwood lied about speeding / Headline SurferIn fact, less than three weeks into the job, Chitwood, behind the wheel of an unmarked car, was stopped by one of his deputies for speeding. And yet Chitwood managed to turn a potentially embarrassing situation into something that generated even bigger headlines and TV news spotlights across the US.  

He lied to the public through his local media appearances — even how fast he was going after a rendezvous with the deputy - Sgt. Keith Peck - some 12 hours after the fact in the back of the Peabody Auditorium.

And while Chitwood made nice with the deputy, he got him to write a lesser speed and then threw him under the bus to the media outlets — one each day over the course of a week, claiming he insisted the deputy write him up and not give him a free pass.

None of the media outlets bothered to reach out to the deputy. Headline Surfer, contacted him, but he did not respond to the inquiry.  

Headline Surfer spoke to two other deputies who said Chitwood forced Peck to reduce the speed from 80 in a 50 to 78 in a 55 so he could avoid an enhanced reckless driving charge.  

The deputies, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Chitwood had the meeting later in the day after Peck alerted his supervisors almost immediately after Chitwood unleashed a profanity-laced tongue lashing before speeding off.

Chitwood's law enforcement oversight in Deltona, the county's largest city that contracts for services with the VCSO, has been abysmal since then with spikes in violent crimes — murders, carjackings, and home invasions.

But back in Daytona, Chitwood's successor, Capri, a 25-year veteran of the Daytona Beach police force who moved up the ranks from patrol officer to chief of police, has made significant inroads in tackling violent crime.

With Chitwood moving to the VCSO, Capri readily acknowledged "violent crime was pretty bad for many years and still is, but we've made great strides in reducing it somewhat."

Since taking the helm in November 2016, as acting chief, before he was named the permanent chief by Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm two months later, Capri has put a premium on community policing and having his patrol cops interact more with residents in the neighborhoods, at shopping centers, outside the post office and other gathering places. 

"We want residents to feel like they're included and important," Capri said, "that we are there because we care."  

Community Policing Difference maker in Sanford

That concept of community policing with marked units crisscrossing neighborhoods and shopping centers is something the Seminole County Sheriff's Office began putting emphasis about five years ago, Sheriff Dennis Lemma said.

That concept of community policing (as ahown in this Headline Surfer video) with marked units crisscrossing neighborhoods and shopping centers is something the Seminole County Sheriff's Office began putting emphasis about five years ago, Sheriff Dennis Lemma said.

"We started that philosophy of rolling down the window and saying hello to folks while driving by and when time permitting, parking the car and getting out and walking where there are concentrations of people," Lemma said.

"It is an investment in time, which we feel is well worth it and our declining crime figures show it has worked. With new recruits coming on, it is important to keep the momentum going — important for our deputies in assigned patrols to get to know their residents and vice versa and build that community trust."

The one truly horrific example that irks Lemma, is the slaughter of a Casselberry family from within on the night of April 17, 2016, when the patriarch, Henry Brown, estranged from his wife, Chericia Brown, hid in the trunk outside the Chilis restaurant in Lake Mary for her to come outside and then he pounced on her, stabbing her repeatedly, before running her over and a few bystanders trying to help her.

Brown then fled back to Casselberry where he picked up their two small children from a babysitter and drove back to east on I-4 to Seminole County Regional Hospital in hopes of finishing his wife off after learning through a TV news report that his wife had been transported there in critical condition. 

Brown never made it past the ER before a gun battle broke out with cops and he fled back onto the interstate but didn't go very far having run over stop sticks. But before Sheriff's deputies and Sanford cops could move in, Brown fatally shot the children before killing himself.

And while many homicides are reactive, this wiping out of an entire family could have been prevented had a deputy assigned to monitor the Browns early on through an arrangement between the courts and law enforcement had done his job. The deputy, Chad Tavenner, was fired after an investigation. 

"It's just something that stays with you," said Lemma, a married man with two children.

How Safe Infographic / Headline Surfer

As sensational and frightening as violent crime is nowadays, it's really not new, said George Kirkheim, Ph.D., a professor emeritus in criminology at Florida State University.

Kirkheim recalled a shocking crime in 1964 in which 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was repeatedly stabbed outside her Kew Gardens apartment and died when nobody came to her aid.

"The New York Timers reported a couple weeks later that 36 neighbors either saw or heard her screams for help, but did nothing," said Kirkheim, who in the early 1970s, gained fame as the professor who became a Tallahassee cop.

About The Byline Writer:
Henry Frederick bio / Headline Surfer Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet launched 12 years ago that serves greater Daytona Beach, Sanford & Orlando, Florida via HeadlineSurfer.com. Frederick has amassed more than a hundred journalism industry awards in print & online -- more than all other members of the working press combined in Central Florida since the mid-1990s. He earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in 2019. Having witnessed the execution of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Florida's death chamber and other high profile cases, Frederick has appeared on national crime documentary programs on Discovery ID and Reelz for his investigative reporting and cops & courts breaking news stories. Award-Winning Journalism of Henry Frederick.  
 
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