FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. (WKRG) — Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Robert Bage spoke at the city council meeting Monday night in response to recent violent crimes.

“We think a lot of these issues tie in between what goes on in Sylvania Heights in the Crestview area, and some of the areas that surround the city of Fort Walton Beach.”

Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Robert Bage

Most recently, a fight Saturday, March 26 between two people at a popular Fort Walton Beach bar Coaster’s escalated into a shooting.

Michael Ladson, 39, from Crestview was arrested for attempted murder. FWBPD told WKRG News 5 the victim from Shalimar was shot in the shoulder and will be ok.

Chief Bage said most of the recent shootings they investigated have been arguments between locals that result in gunfire.

“Disputes between individuals have turned more violent,” said Chief Bage. “And we’ve seen that going on a lot where there’s probably some type of mitigation that needs to go on amongst not just with the Police Department or in public safety, but with different public advocacy groups to really talk about alternatives to violence with, especially in a younger community, because we’re seeing more and more of these shootings or incidents involving the youth of the community.”

Chief Bage said overall crime has been trending down in recent years.

“Overall we’ve seen crime go down for the past three years,” said Chief Bage. “We’re just in the start of now 2022, so it’s very early in 2022 to make any predictions for how 2022 would look. But over the past previous three years, we’ve seen a decrease in crime. And last year we’re at the lowest number for part one, crimes that we’ve seen in 15 years.”

The real focus of the department is cracking down on drug overdoses.

“In February, about 14% of the arrests we made were drug-related arrests,” said Chief Bage. “And we saw the same number in January. So we can see an increase in the number of drug arrests and drug activities that we’ve come across. “

Chief Bage gave an update on the January 27 shooting on the Cinco Bayou Bridge in Fort Walton Beach. Police said a suspect shot a 15-year-old boy in the head riding in the passenger seat of a car.

“We had the incident on the cinco bayou bridge, which happened a few months ago where two vehicles were shooting at each other, we’ve identified possible subjects in the shootings and there should be arrests in the very near future to close that case, in all likelihood, it looks like the same thing. It looks like there was a dispute between a group of individuals that then turned violent.”

Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Robert Bage

Ways to crack down on crime

“The unfortunate part about all of this is that innocent bystanders can get caught up in the middle of this and have got caught up sometimes in the middle of these incidents the same thing took place. 

If something is going on their neighborhood, if they see something just like we always say ‘If you see something, say something.’ Sometimes it’s that smallest tip when somebody speaks up that will solve the biggest crime. 

Some of the other strategies we’ve been looking at is we try to increase our visibility, high visibility patrols, trying to get out there. We try to stay active into proactive policing where there’s traffic stops engagement with the community and really build both the relationship, but also show that the rule of law still exists and that we want to maintain order within our local community while we’re out there.”

Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Robert Bage

Fort Walton Beach drug overdose statistics

“If you looked at the same point in time in 2019, we were at 12. Overdoses in 2020 had dropped down to four, and 21 had picked up to 17. And we’re at 17 again this year, year to date. So that’s just for the first basically three months of the year, and those are the only the overdose calls that we go to as a Police Department. 

To put it in perspective, in 2020 we had 40 total overdose calls. Last year we had 66, so we’ve seen a marginal increase in the overdose calls and this year in 2022, it’s no different. We’re looking the same thing that this will be another year where we’ve seen numerous overdoses.

One of the things we’ve told people is that experimentation with drugs no longer exists. Almost everything that we see is laced with fentanyl, so everything is as poisonous as it can be out there. The day of a somebody experimenting with marijuana, or with maybe some party drug or club drug really doesn’t exist. We’re seeing people overdosing on their first time, their second time that are not always habitual drug addicts. They are people that may have casual drug use, overdosing just because of the laced with fentanyl.

We’re seeing that when we’re going out to these calls, in the past where we’ve given one dose of Narcan, it’s now sometimes taking 2-3 doses of Narcan.”

Fort Walton Beach Police Cheif Robert Bage

City council members and Chief Bage agreed Monday night to speak more about solutions to crime issues at upcoming strategic planning meetings.