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DeBary’s crime drops but school safety concerns persist

Crime is down in DeBary, despite a rash of car burglaries, and the River City is prepared for natural disasters. But concern remains about safety at the city’s only public school: DeBary Elementary.

Those were among the highlights of City Council member Stephen Bacon’s town hall meeting last week about public safety.

Stephen Bacon
Stephen Bacon

“The budget is unlimited when it comes to people’s lives and property,” Bacon said Tuesday (July 18). “Some of these kids in grammar school could be 6 feet tall at 10 years old.”

In recent weeks, Bacon has raised concerns about safety at DeBary Elementary. He referenced the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, when Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adults.

“It was horrible,” Bacon said. “If there’s one incident, I mean, that is a good reason why we should have” a school resource officer.

Sherrif-Mike-Chitwood

Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, one of the speakers at the town hall, agreed.

“If I had my way, I’d put a deputy in every school,” Chitwood said. “It’s just not physically feasible to do that.”

He noted that when he was police chief of Daytona Beach, he snagged a grant to pay for officers in all 10 schools in the city. But the grant runs out at the end of next year. It would cost $1.6 million to keep up the same level of staffing, said Chitwood, who took office as sheriff in January.

Bacon didn’t say how a school resource officer at DeBary Elementary school might be funded. The city already faces an increase this year in its public safety budget.

Public safety costs rise

Public safety costs for the city are projected to increase to $5.54 million, an increase of $444,393. That includes fire services, law-enforcement protection and a portion of the debt for the new $2 million fire station.

The amount proposed for fire services, $1,739,683, is a nearly 30 percent increase. The amount proposed for the Sheriff’s Office is $3.49 million, a 32 percent increase.

City staffers are proposing to use $816,000 from reserves to balance this year’s budget.

The contracts with Orange City for fire services and with the Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.

Chitwood: Crime is down

Chitwood said crime is down 20 percent during the first six months of this year compared to the first six months of 2016, though car burglaries have been “really big here.” The city’s proximity to Interstate 4 makes it a target for criminals looking for “crimes of opportunity,” Chitwood added.

“We’re on the I-4 corridor. They’re getting off and, as the councilman will tell you, they went into his subdivision and they went through that place like Sherman went through Atlanta,” Chitwood said. Bacon became a crime victim in April when a suspect got into his gated subdivison – River Oaks – and stole his convertible Corvette. 

It was recovered two hours later in Sanford.  Other communities in DeBary have been hit by car burglars seeking unlocked vehicles.

A man from Sanford is accused of car burglaries in Glen Abbey and DeBary Golf and Country Club. Chitwood says technology will help deputies fight crime.

DeBary’s proposed budget for next year includes a $70,000 request from Chitwood for two, fixed-location license-plate readers, as well as a third moveable reader.

The readers constantly scan license plates and they send alerts to deputies if the device detects anything flagged in national or state crime databases, like stolen plates, Chitwood said.

Official: Overprepare

Emergency managers, meanwhile, say DeBary and Volusia County are ready for disasters but residents need to be active participants and obey evacuation orders.

“The biggest thing you need to do is prepare your family,” said another speaker, Tom Cisco, operations coordinator for Volusia County Emergency Management. “Talk to your family about what hazards are going to affect you. And not just hurricanes. We always talk about hurricanes but there are a lot of hazards in this county that can affect you.”

DeBary Safety Coordinator Alan Williamson, also the city’s public works director, said “it’s better to overprepare than underprepare.”

“DeBary doesn’t necessarily need to evacuate. But depending on the storm, if you are in a manufactured home, you want may want to think about evacuating,” Williamson said.

The city is prepared for a range of disasters, he said.

“As far as the city, we have a comprehensive emergency management plan,” Williamson said. “We don’t plan just for hurricanes. We plan for all hazards. Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Sinkholes. Wildfires.”