Niceville Councilman Bill Schaetzle wants a drug task force to become a reality in Niceville. But that task force won’t become a reality – at least not yet.
Arrests for illegal drug possession, mostly methamphetamines and fentanyl, continue to make up a plurality of arrests in Niceville. Nearly one in three arrests made in Niceville city limits since Mid Bay News started its crime tracker in October of 2022 has something to do with drugs.
“I won’t sit here and tell you we don’t have a drug problem. We do have a drug problem,” said Niceville Fire Chief Tommy Mayville, “It’s all over, it’s not just Niceville, it is everywhere.” Mayville’s firefighters, who are all also trained EMTs, administer Narcan, a drug that counteracts the deadly effects of Fentanyl, regularly. He relayed this information to the Niceville City Council on February 14 at their regular business meeting. The drug problem is “something that won’t go away,” Mayville added.
“Ever,” added Police Chief David Popwell – who was standing next to Mayville – speaking to the council.
To that end, Councilman Schaetzle hopes to start a task force within the city and a partnership with other cities in the area to reduce illicit drugs’ presence in the area. The councilman returned energized from a anti-drug summit in Crestview on January 18th ready to do something about the problem which he says has affected the entire county. “To quote [Crestview Mayor] JB Whitten, ‘it’s great to talk about it, but now let’s do something about it.’”
Schaetzle, Mayor Dan Henkel, the emergency services chiefs and the rest of the city council discussed the different options to reduce the volume of illegal drugs available to residents, doing something about people who are addicted and reducing drugs’ appeal to young people who they view as the most susceptible to use illegal drugs.
According to the Mid Bay News crime tracker: the average age of someone arrested for a drug offense is 35.07 years old, as of February 17th. “I’ve [had officers in my department arrest] some as young as 14 up to their mid-fifties,” Chief Popwell told the council when asked by Niceville City Manager Lannie Corbin for an age range of the suspects.
RELATED: Where is Niceville’s meth coming from? Here’s the answer:
Ultimately – Chief Popwell says the issue comes down to ineffective anti-drug programs in schools and drug smuggling. Popwell believes programs like DARE didn’t work – and sucked up resources in an unsuccessful attempt to reduce youth drug use. Ultimately, he says, the responsibility and the blame for failure rests with parents and the judicial system. “The dealers and the users and family members have Narcan,” Popwell told the council, “especially those who know their kids are involved with fentanyl or heroin. You’re sending the wrong message if you know your child is using fentanyl and you [say] ‘look, if something happens, I’ve got Narcan here in the bathroom,’ as opposed to getting treatment and getting help. So, there is not a law enforcement response to this. This needs to be a mental health and hospital response, because that is what the issue is.”
The drug of choice in Niceville has changed over the years. At the beginning of Chief Popwell’s time at the city, some 20 years ago, cocaine was the drug of choice for users. Over the last two decades, Niceville police have seen preferences shift from Cocaine to MDMA to Meth and now to Fentanyl. Popwell believes the drug of choice is an economic decision based on supply and demand. “[Fentanyl is] the spike right now until we stop the flow of drugs into the southern border,” Popwell added.
According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA, most of the illegal Fentanyl enters the country directly from Mexico or China. (You can read the full report from the DEA here.)
As for Meth, Mid Bay News spoke with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office about the popularity of Meth in our area earlier this year. Lt. Heath Hehl with the Sheriff’s Office says the ease of making meth is the root cause of the drug’s popularity.
Councilman Schaetzle told the rest of the council he believed there was also space for a community response to the drug issue, and repeated his belief a task force needed to be stood up in the city of Niceville. He believes a program that includes reaching out to high schoolers would be the best way to reduce the use of illicit drugs in the community. “I also think that there needs to be more parent education because, a lot of times, the parents aren’t aware of what’s happening until it’s too late,” added Councilwoman Cathy Alley.
Ultimately, no motion was put forth at the February meeting to create or change a policy or create a task force to deal with drug issues in the city of Niceville. That means the earliest a task force would be stood up would be at the next regular business meeting – on March the 14th.
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