Volusia County Sheriff’s Office
Protecting and Serving in the Sunshine State
By Lieutenant E. Westfall
Among the 11 most populous counties in Florida, Volusia County is home to approximately 500,000 residents most of the year. However, Volusia County is also a popular coastal tourist destination that’s home to something else- special events, and lots of them. There’s everything from Spring Break, Black College Reunion and the Turkey Rod Run to two annual biker fests, motorcycle races and the world-famous Daytona 500. During these annual events, with the influx of visitors, vacationers and day-trippers, Volusia County’s population easily swells to double its normal size. And that means twice the amount of traffic crowds, congestion and road dangers. And therein lies one of the major challenges for two-wheeled law enforcement officers. But it’s a challenge that the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office’s 20 motorcycle deputies embrace with a great deal of pride and enthusiasm. For most, they couldn’t imagine doing anything else in the law enforcement field.
“As I ride with my motor deputies during special events, it’s clear to me why they love their job,” said Captain Eric Dietrich, the Sheriff’s Office’s Special Services commander. “It’s a job that allows them to constantly work in an outside environment and connect with everyone around them, whether they’re welcoming tourists to our events, helping motorists in need of assistance or issuing a citation to enforce traffic safety. At the end of every shift, you truly feel like you’ve made a difference in the safety of our citizens and visitors.”
For the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office’s Motors Unit, Harley-Davidson motorcycles are their ride of choice. The agency has 22 Harley-Davidson Police Road King motorcycles and recently added a new 2014 FLHTP Electra Glide motorcycle to its fleet. And the best part – valued at $18,000, the new police bike came at no cost! It was awarded to the agency, won by one of the Sheriff’s Office’s most skilled riders, Lieutenant Eric Westfall, for taking top honors in the individual riding competition at Harley-Davidson’s 110th Nationwide Police Skills and Training Competition in Milwaukee, WI. Lt. Westfall entered the competition on his own time, taking vacation leave in order to attend and compete.
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office has three motor units- one that services the agency’s entire jurisdiction and two smaller units dedicated to the communities of Deltona and DeBary, FL two cities that contract with the Sheriff’s Office for their law enforcement services. Naturally, traffic enforcement is job one for the Sheriff’s Office’s motor units. And their statistics paint an impressive picture, including in excess of 15,000 traffic citations and more than 625 arrests in just the past year. Equally important to public safety has been their crackdown on aggressive driving, which has resulted in the issuance of nearly 1,500 aggressive driving citations since 2006. Of course, no one like to get a ticket. But to the Sheriff’s Office’s motor units, every dangerous motorist stopped for driving aggressively is potentially a life saved. “It’s a proven fact that strict enforcement saves lives,” said Sergeant Jim Whittet, supervisor of the Sheriff’s Office’s countywide motor unit. “That’s why we do what we do. Our enforcement efforts make the roads safer for everyone.”
Statistics alone, though, don’t begin to tell safety, motor deputies target impaired drivers, street racers and red-light runners. They enforce seat belt laws and crack down on traffic violators in school zones as well as motorist who endanger schoolchildren by illegally passing stopped school buses. They participate in a variety of street crime operations, such as details that target stolen vehicles, and also conduct special enforcement operations throughout the county in response to neighborhood traffic complaints. In addition, they provide escorts in order to ensure safe passage of everything from presidential motorcades and other dignitary visits to funeral processions, homes on wheels and portable school classrooms being transported to campuses around the county. Motor deputies also are responsible for conducting THI’s, or traffic homicide investigations, in all four of the Sheriff’s Office’s contract cities. And while traffic enforcement is one of the most visible activities that the public sees motor deputies engaging in, equally important is the fact that their traffic duties often end up revealing criminal activities which might otherwise go unnoticed. Motor deputies also are a ready force always available for those “other duties as assigned.” So, for instance, when three hurricanes struck the eastern coast in 2004, motor deputies were there to respond and assist in recovery efforts. The same goes when tornadoes touched down in Volusia County on Christmas Day 2006, and then again just a few weeks early February 2007. And last year, when a mother and her two children went missing in Volusia County under suspicious circumstances, motor units were there to supplement the massive ground search.
And then there are the special events, DUI enforcement waves and the peak beach season. During those times, it’s literally all hands on deck, as the Sheriff’s Office’s motor deputies work hand-in-hand with neighboring law enforcement agencies, both local and state, to ensure the safe and orderly flow of traffic in and out of the community. It’s a busy and hectic-and at times dangerous-job. But it certainly has its rewards. And chief among this is knowing that lives are being saved. After all, the next impaired driver put in handcuffs and taken to jail by a motor deputy is one less tragedy waiting to happen, one less family to notify about the loss of a loved one. “It’s certainly rewarding when an event is successful in the terms of ensuring for the safe and efficient ingress and egress to event venues by all participants, “said Lt. Westfall. “The maneuverability of the motorcycle allows our deputies to quickly and efficiently respond to calls for service or quell issues of concern as they arise.”
Sheriff Ben Johnson certainly is someone who appreciates the value of cops on bikes. As a young motor deputy in the early 1980s, Johnson fondly recalls his days of policing on a bike as a fun and rewarding job where he could zip around traffic and often get to scene quicker than in a patrol car because of the mobility, maneuverability and tactical advantage that a bike affords. In fact, he calls it one of his two most favorite assignments, right up there with the time he spent on the SWAT team. And now, as Volusia County’s elected Sheriff for the past 13 years, Sheriff Johnson values the job of his motor deputies all the more. “Traffic is one of the biggest killers out there,” said Sheriff Johnson. “Because of their enforcement efforts, our motor units are saving lives virtually every day. There are many times when we wouldn’t be able to effectively do our job, get to where we need to go quickly enough and take care of the situation without our motor units. They’re absolutely essential to our ability to fulfill our mission protecting and serving the public.
LIEUTENANT’S MOTORCYCLE SKILLS EARN AGENCY NEW BIKE
When it comes to police motorcycle skills, Volusia County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Eric Westfall is about as good as it gets. Westfall proved that once again recently, Taking the top honors in the individual riding competition during Harley-Davidson’s Nationwide Police Skills and Training Competition in Milwaukee, WI. The top spot not Only earned Westfall some serious bragging rights. It also came with a very useful And valuable prize — a 2014 Harley-Davidson police motorcycle that was awarded to The Sheriff’s Office.
On Thursday the Volusia County Council formally accepted the donated motorcycle, Valued at $18,000, but not before joining Sheriff Ben Johnson in giving Westfall a Hearty pat on the back. First, Council members were treated to a viewing of a Two-and-a-half minute video that captured Westfall’s winning ride as he weaved in And out of cones and sharp turns at extremely slow speeds that made it an extreme Challenge to maintain control of the bike. “That was some very fine riding,” said Council member Pat Norther. “Wow! That was pretty impressive.” Sheriff Johnson Couldn’t agree more. “The job that Eric did was just outstanding,” the Sheriff told The assembled Council members during Thursday’s meeting in DeLand. “We’re real proud To have him here.” Not one to seek the limelight, Westfall was typically low-key and humble in Accepting the accolades. In fact, it was County Manager James Dinneen who insisted On bringing Westfall before the Council after hearing of his exploits. Westfall Entered the competition on his own time, taking vacation leave in order to go. “To Do something that made us look that good, and for you to do it without asking for anything, that’s the most impressive part to me,” said Dinneen. “I really felt it was important that the Council get to see the caliber of the employees we have — not just their professional credentials, but the quality of the people that we have working for us.”
A 20-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, Westfall is assigned as an assistant district commander of the agency’s Deltona law enforcement operations. Sheriff Johnson, who presented Westfall last month with the agency’s medal of merit, pointed out that his feat in Milwaukee was even more impressive given the fact that he rides and trains part-time and was facing full-time motorcycle officers from all over the United States and Canada. “We’re just so honored to have you as a part of our force here,” said Council member Joyce Cusack. “We thank you and we congratulate you.” After all of the glowing comments, the Council voted unanimously to accept the Harley. “We now have a motorcycle,” announced Council Chair Jason Davis from the dais immediately after the vote. The Sheriff’s Office is expected to take possession of the new bike in about two weeks. “I want to thank the Sheriff for providing me the opportunity to represent not only the Sheriff’s Office, but the county, at this prestigious event,” added Westfall. “Thank you all for taking the time to recognize me for that.”
Information and Photos provided by the Volusia County, FL Sheriff’s Office.