Tuesday morning, Niceville Police raided a College Cove Drive home – in the area just south of the College where most of the City’s drug arrests occur. In the last 30 days, Niceville Police made six arrests for drug-related crimes in an area roughly the size of Northwest Florida State College’s Campus. Those arrests don’t include those made by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office in unincorporated parts of the neighborhood.
Police entered the home at 9 AM to find one person wanted for drugs and arrested five people.
Firefighters, emergency medical personnel, county health department officials, and code enforcement soon followed behind the police department.
City Manager David Deitch called the raid, which he witnessed, ‘flawlessly executed’ and told the Niceville City Council at Tuesday night’s meeting he had contacted the home’s owner. The owner, he said, is a recovering addict who wants to help clean up the area and his own life, according to Deitch. “the property owner who was recently released from jail genuinely seems to want to turn his life around, and so I’m going to help him do that.”
The Niceville Public Works Department moved a dumpster to the property to help clear it out so the property can have a new lease on life. Public Works Director Jonathan Laird reported the property’s front yard has been cleaned up since the raid on Tuesday.
The College Cove Area of the City sits on an invisible line. Parts of the area nearby are outside the City – a holdover from when it was significantly cheaper to avoid city taxes.
The result: criminals can cross the line into the county where Niceville Police can’t follow them. Instead, it’s up to the sheriff’s deputies to enforce the law.
“The County’s got a lot of areas to cover,” Niceville Police Chief David Popwell explained the situation. There are more of us officers (per citizen) in the City.” The part of the City to the east of the Fire Station, South of College Boulevard, north of 285 as it jogs east and west of Swift Creek, has continually been a thorn in law enforcement’s side.
Popwell said the annexation of 919 47th Street, which took place officially at Tuesday’s City Council Meeting, brought into the City a known drug house seized and destroyed by the county this year. He believes that the annexation is a good thing. Law enforcement stands one step closer to eradicating places for drug users and sellers to hide in the area because they can use police power to move the threat out of the neighborhood. “We will be able to cover those areas much more efficiently [than the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office],” said Chief Popwell.
Niceville Resident Dan Pettis lives about a block from the house on 47th Street. He told the council he favored the absorption of the unincorporated land where the drug house used to sit for just that reason. “It was a well-known haven for nefarious dealings. [The drug users] have since moved down the Street, where it is still in the county. But, the more the City expands, the more police presence there is. We like it. We appreciate it. Please, for the love of everything holy, let it happen,” Pettis told the City Council.
In addition to drug users, though the groups often overlap, according to Popwell, there are people in the area of The Zone who “make a conscious decision to be homeless. Mainly, it’s drugs. [That causes people] to not pay their bills. They don’t pay power bills. Then people start getting into petty theft. They’ve got to make a living, so the petty theft rate goes up. Domestic [violence rates] go up because one thing leads to another.”
In addition to their operations in The Zone, Niceville Police have had a busy month. In total, Niceville Police made 25 arrests, of which eight were felonies. They issued 107 traffic tickets and answered about 3,100 calls for service.
The Niceville Fire Department noted that they resuscitated three drug users with naxalone in September.