Commissioner Doug Underhill has responded to Panhandle Politico questions on Sheriff’s Office Law Enforcement Trust Fund (LET) spending. Underhill’s response did not arrive in time to be included in the original article, but is printed below in its entirety.
The article focused on the increase in Sheriff’s Office LET donations to community organizations whose primary missions are not related to crime prevention or drug use prevention, such as Pensacola Opera ($21,000 total since 2009); the Naval Aviation Museum ($39,500); the Veterans Memorial Park ($10,000); Pensacola Little Theater ($10,500); AFCEA Blue Angels Chapter – an IT industry professional association ($45,000); the National Flight Academy ($15,000); and Florida House on Capitol Hill ($10,000).
By law, LET money is supposed to be used for school resource officer, crime prevention, safe neighborhood, drug abuse education and prevention programs and certain law enforcement equipment, additional expertise and investigation purposes.
Sheriff David Morgan recently donated $25,000 to AFCEA, an IT industry professional association, for a January Cyberthon tech industry event in Pensacola. The event allowed high school students to participate in cyber wargames with industry representatives.
Panhandle Politico had asked Underhill:
“In 2015 and 2016 the sheriff’s office donated LET funds to AFCEA. This year they were used for a Cyberthon event you founded & also sponsored.
Did you request LET funding from the sheriff for the event?
How did the Cyberthon event further crime prevention or reduce drug use as described in Florida statute that applies to LET spending?”
Responding to the question about whether he requested LET funding, Underhill noted that during a conversation about the program, Sheriff Morgan offered to support the event with LET funding.
Responding to the question about how the Cyberthon event conforms to Florida statute for LET spending, Underhill said that youth who are inspired by opportunity generally don’t turn to drugs or crime.
Underhill noted that Cyberthon raised $100K, which he says is being used for scholarships and summer camp.
Panhandle Politico asked if only at-risk youth participated in Cyberthon.
“Define “at risk”? Nothing I ever do is exclusionary…kids of any background are involved,” Underhill responded.
Regarding the scholarships, “Any local high school senior bound for college in a science, technology, engineering or math track is eligible to apply. The AFCEA Pensacola Board of Directors will award up to 10 scholarships of $1,000 each,” according to AFCEA’s website.
Editor’s note: Per Underhill’s reference below, last year, Panhandle Politico Publisher Greg Fink was arrested on a first degree misdemeanor charge alleging he did not include a political disclaimer (“Approved by….”) at the bottom of a political mailout. Panhandle Politico is treating the investigation and arrest as an expensive incidence of selective prosecution by State Attorney Bill Eddins; as evidenced by numerous, publicly visible examples of minor campaign violations, including campaign finance report errors; that have not been targeted or prosecuted by Eddins. Panhandle Politico estimates the investigation and prosecution process has cost taxpayers a quarter of a million dollars to date. We will continue to research and report on other instances of selective and/or malicious prosecution that are squandering taxpayer money by the State Attorney’s office, and welcome any information or tips readers may provide. We honor all requests for anonymity. We are currently compiling a long list of dangerous criminal activity and high-level corruption that appear to have gone completely unnoticed by Mr. Eddins in his tireless zeal to keep the community safe from a missing political flyer sentence.
Commissioner Underhill’s full May 28 response:
“Thank you for the opportunity to talk about CyberThon, one of the truly exciting and forward-thinking engagements going on with the kids of Escambia County today, and Sheriff Morgan’s support of this excellent program. How ironic that I would receive a “Media” inquiry from the Panhandle Politico the week before your Editor, Greg Fink, goes to court for the illegal hit pieces he did against me in the campaign. Ours is a truly amusing and convoluted world.
Mike Hicks of Hixardt and I created CyberThon as a vehicle to introduce Escambia’s youth to the very lucrative world of Information Technology and Cybersecurity. As you may be aware, this sector of our economy is growing exponentially and there are many great tech jobs available right here in our community. Unfortunately, our kids are simply not getting the education they need from our school system to get them to the first rung of that career ladder.
This is particularly true of our at-risk youth and our historically under-represented groups in the industry (black, Hispanic, and females). Since taking office I have spoken at numerous symposia from Virginia to Texas to Louisiana and Alabama on the importance of targeting these groups to enter this workforce. (Don’t worry, not one dollar of Escambia taxes has ever been spent on one of those trips.)
During a conversation with Sheriff Morgan about the root of crime, apathy and cynicism, we were talking about the dishonesty that has run rampant in this county, causing all of the opportunity to be concentrated among the few, with very little real public energy being expended to create opportunities for average young people. When I told him what we were doing with the exercise he recognized the value and offered to support it with LET funding as well as his own time as a speaker and participant. The response from the tech community was much higher than Mike and I expected, and of course I was elected to the BOCC, so we knew we needed help. That is when Randy Ramos of AFCEA came in and offered to manage the administrative responsibilities.
The answer to your second question seems self evident: inspired youth, who believe that their community holds them in high regard, has opportunities for them, and engages with them, don’t generally turn to drugs and crime. It was a very poignant moment when the Sheriff was speaking to the kids and asked if they were having fun, to which they all cheered. He followed it up by saying that the people who paid for this are sitting behind bars…you have a choice of being on this side of the equation or the other side. Additionally, each student is paired with a Cybersecurity professional as his or her battle buddy. We all have great jobs those kids want, and security clearances. The exercise provides a 3-day opportunity to talk to the kids about life choices that will close the door on this career.
However, what we accomplish at the exercise is just the tip of the iceberg. Following Sheriff Morgan’s example, the technology community of interest started pouring out their resources. CyberThon ’16 raised almost $100k, which AFCEA Is pouring right back into our youth with STEM scholarships for local students and the first-ever Cyber Patriot summer camps this summer. We are taking the opportunities of cyber and tech to the kids, not just in their high schools, but in their communities all the way down to the elementary school level. It is that kind of engagement that keeps kids out of trouble and on a great path…which is exactly what the statute intends.
Thank you again for your inquiry,
Commissioner Doug Underhill”
Florida Statute 932.7055, which governs LET spending, reads, in part:
“…(5)(a) If the seizing agency is a county or municipal agency, the remaining proceeds shall be deposited in a special law enforcement trust fund established by the board of county commissioners or the governing body of the municipality. Such proceeds and interest earned therefrom shall be used for school resource officer, crime prevention, safe neighborhood, drug abuse education and prevention programs, or for other law enforcement purposes, which include defraying the cost of protracted or complex investigations, providing additional equipment or expertise, purchasing automated external defibrillators for use in law enforcement vehicles, and providing matching funds to obtain federal grants. The proceeds and interest may not be used to meet normal operating expenses of the law enforcement agency.
(b) These funds may be expended upon request by the sheriff to the board of county commissioners or by the chief of police to the governing body of the municipality, accompanied by a written certification that the request complies with the provisions of this subsection, and only upon appropriation to the sheriff’s office or police department by the board of county commissioners or the governing body of the municipality.
(c) An agency or organization, other than the seizing agency, that wishes to receive such funds shall apply to the sheriff or chief of police for an appropriation and its application shall be accompanied by a written certification that the moneys will be used for an authorized purpose. Such requests for expenditures shall include a statement describing anticipated recurring costs for the agency for subsequent fiscal years. An agency or organization that receives money pursuant to this subsection shall provide an accounting for such moneys and shall furnish the same reports as an agency of the county or municipality that receives public funds. Such funds may be expended in accordance with the following procedures:
1. Such funds may be used only for school resource officer, crime prevention, safe neighborhood, drug abuse education, or drug prevention programs or such other law enforcement purposes as the board of county commissioners or governing body of the municipality deems appropriate…”