CRESTVIEW— Outside city limits, police patrols throughout northern Okaloosa County’s 450 square miles are handled by sheriff’s deputies and Florida Highway Patrol troopers.
Fortunately, a cordial synergy exists between the two agencies and their officers.
On a recent morning, Trooper Kelly Carrico, a 26-year FHP veteran, and Deputy J.D. Sarment, a 12-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, were on the road. On a typical day, three troopers and eight deputies patrol the area, supported by local fire and rescue crews.
“We all get along very well,” said Sarment. “We treat each other with respect.”
Carrico said as necessary, fellow troopers from the Pensacola barracks might cover neighboring counties as incidents arise. Although his area technically is the north end of the county, one of his first calls that morning was a fender-bender in Fort Walton Beach. His south end colleague had handled a wreck on Interstate 10 when the accident call came in.
“I have from time to time gone over as far as Bay County,” Carrico said. “It depends on how short-staffed we are.”
Like Carrico, Sarment is a Crestview resident. He just recently started patrolling the northern zone. Almost all of Carrico’s calls involve traffic incidents, while Sarment covers a variety of incidents.
“Mostly we just handle crashes and reckless drivers,” Carrico said. “I’ve seen a rash of motorcycle crashes lately. I don’t know if it has to do with gas prices or not.”
Although it’s generally up to the FHP to file paperwork from an accident outside Crestview’s city limits, Carrico said he and his fellow troopers frequently depend on Sarment and his colleagues to secure the accident scene.
“With three of us (troopers) in the county, sometimes it’s difficult to respond right away,” Carrico said. “The Sheriff’s Office is a big help. Sometimes they get to the scene before we do. They really help us out a lot.”
Sarment said he and fellow deputies continue to respond and provide aid until an FHP unit arrives. Both officers said wrecks seem to get bunched together.
After a quiet morning, Carrico observed, “school’s in, most folks are at work and it’s a dry day. It’s real nice.”
Suddenly three wrecks, including two in or near Crestview, lit up the GPS-linked map on his patrol car’s laptop computer.
“It’s like they come in spurts,” Carrico said.
Sarment and the north end’s other deputies see their business pick up in the afternoon.
“Usually from three o’clock in the afternoon to three o’clock in the morning is when we typically get busy,” he said.
A good example is when people get home from work and find their houses burglarized. As far as the number of calls on daily basis, Sarment said it could be “feast or famine.”
“No day is really typical and no day is really routine,” he said. “Every day is different.”
Both officers’ patrol area takes them throughout rural areas that include part of the Blackwater River State Forest and forest and farmland around Baker, Holt and Laurel Hill.
“I like patrolling up here in the daytime,” Carrico said as his Crown Victoria patrol car cruised the rolling hills near Blackman. “It’s real pretty up here.”
Rural traffic accidents can be caused by drunken drivers crashing into trees, people on vacation rolling into ditches off unfamiliar roads and even escaped livestock on the road.
“We get a lot of animal calls,” Carrico said. “Sometimes we’ve got to corral them.”
Sometimes he patrols near the Alabama line near Paxton to deter underage drinkers.
“The kids come over the border to buy liquor,” Carrico said. “I think the fact of going across the state line gives them the feeling of not being able to be caught. It’s a jurisdictional kind of thing.”
Sarment and Carrico’s shifts rarely end on time, and sometimes can last much longer than scheduled because of incidents that occur near the end of their shift. Sarment said some calls require paperwork to be filled out and sent to a judge before an officer can end his shift.
“There have been times where I have put 16 or 17 hours in one day,” he said.
However, supervisors and fellow deputies work with each other to make sure they do not accumulate too much overtime, Sarment said. He said he has taken over on a call that occurred at the end of another deputy’s shift, and other deputies will do the same for him.
When things get busy, “lunch isn’t always on the schedule,” Carrico said. “Some days I only eat once a day.”
Still, both officers say the rewards of helping the public outweigh the personal sacrifices.
“I love this job,” Sarment said. “This is a great agency to work for.”
Like any job, though, patrolling north Okaloosa can have drawbacks. After investigating a minor collision, Carrico sighed as he entered the data into his laptop.
“The ticket; this is the bad part,” he said as his portable printer spit out a citation. “I hate having to give somebody a ticket.”
Contrary to urban legend, officers don’t have ticket quotas, and almost the entire amount of the fines go to Tallahassee. Only a few dollars per ticket are allocated to the issuing agency.
Still, the most frustrating part of the job is encountering motorists who have been needlessly hurt.
“In 26 years I’ve never seen anybody die from having their seat belt on,” Carrico said.