Local News

Internal investigations result in temporary changes at Sheriff's Office

SEBRING - Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton vowed Friday that law enforcement efforts will not be hampered by an internal affairs investigation resulting in some temporary reassignments of deputies primarily dealing with narcotics investigations. "We won't miss a beat," the sheriff said. "Even though we're shuffling some folk around, we'll take care of everything that needs to be taken care of." In recent days, six members of the eight-member Special Investigations Unit were temporarily reassigned to other duties, she said. Those reassignments resulted from an internal affairs investigation, she said. Benton would not disclose details of the investigation, saying that would be a violation of the law to publicly disclose details of such a probe before it is completed.
The Special Investigations Unit, which mainly handles narcotics investigations, has six detectives, a sergeant and a lieutenant. Benton did not specify which six members of the unit were reassigned. However, she said, reassignment is typical during such internal affairs investigations and doesn't indicate that the complaint will be sustained. The situation has also affected the Safe Neighborhoods unit, Benton said. That unit is the "go-to" team when a special need arises, she said. One of the unit's duties, she said, for example, would be to focus on a neighborhood where crime has increased, she said. At one time, the unit was focused on a disproportionately high crime rate in the Highway Park community, she said. The unit also has done community policing, dealing with such issues as code enforcement, she said. The reason for the unit is that patrol deputies spend a lot of time on "everyday routine things," and don't have time to focus on specific issues, she said. While the internal affairs investigation continues, Benton said, members of the Safe Neighborhoods unit will assist with drug investigations. Among other things, she said, they will respond to leads about narcotics activities. Reassigned members of the Special Investigations Unit will work at the courthouse and in patrol, among other areas, Benton said. Those are areas where the Sheriff's Office is tight on staffing, she said. Benton said that while conducting such internal affairs investigations can cause some problems, she believes that investigating complaints from the public is essential. "If the community cannot trust us to police ourselves, we have no trust," Benton said. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834.