When a social media post went viral Monday in which there was a suggestion that a Sneads patrol vehicle, a marked Ford Explorer, was being used by an unauthorized person and had been seen in Tallahassee, Sneads Police Chief Mike Miller reacted by posting a response on his department’s Facebook page and also delivering it into the feed of the woman who originally posted the item.
It had included a picture of the vehicle in Tallahassee and implied that the person behind the wheel was not a sworn officer. Miller said in conversation with the Floridan Tuesday that as the original post gained traction there was an implication along the way that it was the town’s city manager driving the vehicle in that picture and that she was using it for personal transportation to and from work.
In fact, Miller said, new SPD officer Janie Melton was behind the wheel. She had transported an individual to medical facility under the Baker Act, he said, pointing out that the picture posted in the original Facebook post actually showed an exit point at the Apalachee Center, where the individual had been taken.
Miller said he felt it was prudent to respond in an effort to stunt the growth of the inaccurate information so that it would not fester into “public disdain” for his department and officers.
“There was a number of replies back and forth to the post that were not accurate according to what actually took place,” Miller wrote in his post. “Based on that it was prudent of me to put something out, explaining what our officers were doing. It’s really sad that I had to do this, but I wanted to make sure that the citizens of this town were getting an accurate representation of what was going on.”
“The Sneads Police Department has a standard practice for detained persons under Baker Act to be transported to the nearest appropriate facility with the ability to accept the person on a mandatory hold,” it continued. “The Apalachee Center…at 2634 Capital Circle NE Tallahassee… is the nearest mental health facility for Sneads which also had an opening at the time in which the Baker Act was signed by the on-duty officer,” he had written.
In response to some of the statements made in reaction to the original post which indicated the facility is outside the judicial circuit into which Jackson County falls, Miller pointed out that in medical situations, it is not necessary for a jurisdiction to transport someone to a facility within any particular judicial circuit. The more important concern, he said, is getting someone to the closest receiving facility.
Not only is the Bay County facility (within Jackson County’s circuit) farther away from Sneads than the one in Tallahassee, Miller said, Bay County didn’t have an opening at the time it was needed.
And since the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office no longer transports Baker Act candidates for other law enforcement entities, it was up to the SPD to make the trip.
Miller further explained the circumstances of the transport in his post. “She (officer Melton) is a full-time bonded Law Enforcement Officer and is certified to Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission,” Miller wrote. “She has all power and authority of Florida and for Sneads Police Department. The vehicle she was driving was her assigned marked patrol unit which she was given on June 20, 2019. Officer Melton was in her duty uniform for this transport as well. The detainee was cuffed in the back of the patrol vehicle in accordance to Sneads Police Department transport policy.”
He also addressed the matter of the vehicle that the city manager drives, which is also a Ford Explorer, as that became a big part of the discussion resulting from the original post-gone-viral.
The vehicle was in fact once part of the SPD fleet but was decommissioned and passed on for other uses by the as it aged (it’s a 2006 model) and clocked too many miles to be on the road for police work, Miller said in conversation Tuesday. The Sneads City Commission had assigned it to the city manager before Miller came on as the appointed chief in December of 2018. After he took office, he made sure that all its law enforcement-related equipment was removed or disengaged, adding that the main breaker to sensitive systems and been broken to prevent any unauthorized access. He said he has no reason to believe that the city manager ever tried to engage any of those elements before he took action to ensure that all of them were made inoperable.
“City Manager Bell was authorized by city council members to drive a decommissioned unmarked blue Ford Explorer previously utilized by the Sneads Police Department,” he wrote in his post. “The vehicle was removed from the active used vehicle roster in reassigned to city hall. Since that time, all emergency equipment has been removed from the vehicle or rendered unusable,” he continued.
He also addressed comments that had been made about department employees taking their vehicles home, as there had been comments in the original post regarding use of vehicles in that manner.
“All sworn Sneads Police Department employees are afforded, as most Law Enforcement Officers in the nation are, with regards to taking their assigned patrol vehicle home with them each and every day after their shift,” he wrote. “All sworn employees are on standby in case of emergency and subjected to being called back on duty. Sneads policy states that employees must live in a 25-mile radius of the Sneads Police Department.”
Miller went on to say that he welcomes the public to come to him with any concerns they have, at any time, saying his “door is always open and when not at the office is always available by phone to address any questions or concerns in reference to any of his officers or departmental resources. All citizens are urged to contact Chief Miller before taking to a public forum without having all the information in any given situation.”
In his post, Miller posted his work and cell number.
Saying that although he would hold confidential any information about the Baker Act incident as it relates to the individual transported, Miller said he stands ready and eager to provide any information to which the public is entitled.
“Just as you would not like to have information put out about your worst moment, the Sneads Police Department holds information in regards to certain police activities and normal day to day operations of the Sneads Police Department confidentially in compliance with Florida Public Records Laws. Any other questions, statements or concerns that anyone might have are urged to call Chief Michael Miller on his work phone at (850) 593-6403 or his cell phone (850) 372-0014,” his post concluded.
Miller, who worked for the Marianna Police Department for 11 years and had attained the rank of captain before moving on to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office for six months just prior to taking on the role of SPD Chief in December of last year, said Tuesday he hopes his post will help build valued public trust as the department goes forward with him at the helm, and in his officers as well as the city and all its departments as well.
“We had a very positive response to our post, and on her feed, too, which resulted in her updating her feed with almost an apology,” Miller said. “I hope we can all go forward together.”