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City Council denies dismantling police department

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MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — At the beginning of August, officials with the city of Mexico Beach asked the Bay County Sheriff’s Office to draw up how much it would cost for deputies to begin patrolling the city.

Creating a contract with the sheriff’s office though would dismantle the existing police department.

On August 30, Sheriff Tommy Ford presented the city with two options they could choose from to fit their budget.

The proposals were read and discussed on Tuesday at the Mexico Beach City Council meeting.

The council only considered one of the options, that would save the city about $36,000 dollars a year.

Mayor Al Cathey says, the option to contract with BCSO makes sense as the city looks to the future.

“Historically, we’ve had difficult times keeping policeman in Mexico Beach. We’re a stepping stone,” Cathey said.

During the meeting, many residents and even officers voiced their concerns about the possible change.

Residents say, they fear the new deputies wouldn’t have a sense of community like their officers do.

“It’s worth it to us to have our local people who know us and care for us,” said resident David Gieseking.

Another resident said she wanted the police department to remain in place due to how familiar the officers are with the city.

“They know who’s supposed to be around, who are supposed to be walking the street at night and if it’s a stranger because they know the people that live here,” said Camie Chappell.

Cathey says though, this wouldn’t be an issue because he knows how Sheriff Ford operates.

“I think he would have deep feelings for making sure the people he put out here were community-minded. That’s what he does,” Cathey said.

Once public comment was closed, the meeting became emotional. Cathey says this might’ve clouded the judgment of the rest of the council.

“The emotions of those folks obviously I guess made a difference to some of our council members. I think it’s a good business decision,” Cathey said.

The council ended up throwing out the discussion and didn’t even take a vote.

Police Chief Anthony Kelly says the last month or so has been tough on his staff but the community’s support on Tuesday made a difference in the decision.

“Overall I’m just touched that we can continue that community service. From day one to the day that we’re asked no longer to be here, but I think we’re going to be here for a while,” said Kelly.

Mayor Cathey was the only member of the council who was for the change. When asked if there was any animosity towards Cathey, Chief Kelly says he was only doing his job.

“No animosities whatsoever. I respect the fact that they all had a hard task to do but going forward, as I said, we’re a phoenix on the rise and we’ll continue to rise with the community,” Kelly said.

Kelly said his department will continue to serve the community with pride like always.

“Even though several of the officers here have lost everything from the impact of the storm, we continue to come to work each and every day. We all have emotions that we had to deal with but this community was first and foremost,” Kelly said.

Sheriff Tommy Ford released this statement after news got to his desk the city turned down the proposal.

“The Mexico Beach City Council requested a proposal from the Bay County Sheriff’s Office to provide law enforcement services to Mexico Beach. We responded with a proposal that would cover the cost for law enforcement services. We respect the Council’s decision to maintain its police department and will continue our good working relationship with the Mexico Beach Police Department. A BCSO deputy has been assigned to Mexico Beach since Hurricane Michael, and that will also continue. The Bay County Sheriff’s Office will maintain its commitment to provide law enforcement to all the citizens of Bay County. “

Chief Kelly says he and Ford have a great relationship and his force works well alongside the county’s deputies.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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