MCSO: Monumental change within the sheriff’s office

Ocala, Florida — In light of recent terrorist attacks, increased chatter, and intelligence about “lone-wolf” terrorists — both foreign and domestic — the Marion County Sheriff’s Office plans to deter any threats against Marion County by being prepared.

Ocala Post recently reported that the FBI alerted multiple local law enforcement agencies, advising them to be vigilant and stay on high alert.

Well, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office is doing just that. Sheriff Chris Blair is restructuring the six bureaus that currently exist within the agency by forming the Bureau of Homeland Security and Professional Compliance, which will include Emergency Management.

Major Terry Bovaird, six-month retired MCSO major, will head up the reorganized bureau.

Wednesday, Sheriff Blair held a press conference announcing the monumental change within the sheriff’s office. Among the many that attended was Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn, Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Special Agent in Charge Dennis Bustle, and FDLE Assistant Special Agent in Charge Mark Brutnell.

All of whom welcomed Sheriff Blair’s decision to reinstate Major Bovaird.

“Terry Bovaird is an expert in the field of domestic security and he brings a wealth of knowledge to Marion County,” SAC Brutnell said.

Former Ocala Police Chief Morrey Deen thanked Sheriff Blair for taking the initiative and stepping forward and showing strong leadership by informing Marion County citizens about his preparedness in dealing with evil.

Mayor Guinn said when he was tasked with choosing a new chief of police three years ago, Major Bovaird was on that list. He went on to say he appreciated Sheriff Blair’s leadership and everything he was doing with FDLE and other agencies.

“Sometimes we don’t think bad things can happen here, but rest assured they can happen here just like anywhere else,” Mayor Guinn said.

Marion County Commissioners did not attend the press conference.

“Despite my requests for the media to hold this story until all information was provided, some in the media jumped to conclusions about my plans for the agency, as well as my bringing on Major Bovaird. Today, I am announcing a reorganization at the Sheriff’s Office,” Sheriff Blair said.

Sheriff Blair claimed many have attempted to portray the hiring of Major Bovaird as a political agenda, when in fact it has nothing to do with politics.

“There is nothing politically correct about terrorism,” Sheriff Blair said.

“It was his (Bovaird’s) qualifications and the fact that he is highly respected throughout the community and the state of Florida because of his expertise and knowledge in the specified field of Homeland Security and Terrorism that I brought him back. Major Bovaird knows Marion County demographics because of his 30 years of service at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. He was selected by former Sheriff Dean after 9/11 to head up a counterterrorism unit because of his work ethic and his abilities to handle such an assignment to watch over the citizens of Marion County, keeping them safe from potential acts of violence when it comes to terrorism,” Sheriff Blair said.

Major Bovaird retired with — and returned to — a salary of $102,568.86. However, since Sheriff Blair took office, he has eliminated 16 top-heavy positions totaling $1,412,789.68. This includes the elimination of outside legal counsel, which was paid $150 per hour for an average of 658 hours per year from 2010 to 2012.

Sheriff Blair eliminated that position and hired Bureau Chief Greg Jerald as in-house legal counsel. In 2014, Chief Jerald worked approximately 2,079 hours billed at $58 per hour.

Sheriff Blair also hired Deputy Chief Fred LaTorre at $123,096.18; Major Don Maines at $108,618.27; Major Tommy Bibb at $108,618.27; and now Terry Bovaird at $102,568.86. These four men give Marion County a total of 130 years of law enforcement experience.

Even with hiring the aforementioned, and eliminating the 16 positions, Sheriff Blair saved taxpayers a recurring savings of $848,356.10.

It should be noted that the MCSO is not alone in bringing back formerly retired employees. In fact, national, state, and local agencies — including at least one other Marion County constitutional officer, the Ocala Police Department, and the Marion County Board of County Commissioners — have brought back formerly retired employees in order to retain their experience.

Major Bovaird has also secured more than $3.1 million in grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security for the MCSO for fighting terrorism, thus eliminating the burden to taxpayers.

Qualifications

“Major Bovaird’s experience and contacts as a subject matter expert in the terrorism field makes him uniquely qualified to assume the role and we know with Major Bovaird there will be no learning curve and he can hit the ground running,” Sheriff Blair said. “It would take years to develop another individual with the same qualifications as Major Bovaird, and I am not willing to risk the safety of the public for years while we do that.”

“The State of Florida Regional Domestic Security Task Force (RDSTF) was created after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Until its creation, the state of Florida had no combined efforts to fight terrorism. Local law enforcement largely believed it was the responsibility of the federal government to prevent, deter, investigate, and mitigate (recover) any terrorist event,” Major Bovaird said. “Any terrorist event that starts local, ends local. That means if it is your local community that is hit by an event — even after federal and state emergency teams finish their work — it is the local community that must deal with the lasting impacts.”

Major Bovaird developed the MCSO Terrorist Intelligence Unit and Counter Terrorism Unit. These two units were responsible for the analysis of terrorism-related activities and crimes. And he developed the Planning and Research Unit within the MCSO Terrorist Intelligence Unit to deal with acts of terrorism.

Major Bovaird also served as a committee member who developed the RDSTF Standard Operations Guide (SOG) for the state of Florida, which included the development of the RDSTF’s three-year goals and objectives. This plan updates every three years.

As a subject matter expert and lead co-chair for the RDSTF Operations and Planning Committee among local law enforcement, he served in the following areas, just to name a few:

  • Drafted the Florida Field Operations Guide to Acts of Terrorism, which every first responder in the state of Florida now has.
  • Worked on Florida’s response to incidents of Anthrax.
  • Created protocols for SWAT team and equipment deployment in a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear environment.
  • Developed Multi Agency Coordination Center (MACC) and was assigned as the law enforcement commander of the MACC during the NFL Super Bowl in Jacksonville.
  • Coordinated 11 regional emergency response exercises.

Additionally, Major Bovaird was a committee member that assisted in the development of the LInX information data sharing system in partnership with Naval Criminal Intelligence and Northrop Grumman. The LInX system enables officers and detectives within our region (Region 3) of the RDSTF the ability to search multiple law enforcement data systems from other agencies within other regions of the United States. In the past, a phone call was made to other agencies in order to inquire about a suspect’s criminal activity not involving an arrest. Major Bovaird said, “In all likelihood you would miss all the casual contact between criminals and law enforcement.”

One of the most beneficial factors on Major Bovaird’s resume is he served on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Regional Domestic Security Investigative Task Force and he is recognized as an expert in the field.

Major Bovaird also has a military background in the United States Army where he worked with Hawk Air Defense Missile Systems.

Why in Marion County?

“People need to clearly understand that terrorist attacks could happen in small town U.S.A. ,” Major Bovaird said.

In October 2001, Brian Hagen and Vernon Williams were flying a plane when they deviated from their path and began to head over Marion County and toward the Crystal River Power Plant. The pilot would not respond to authorities. Instead, someone made threats, but authorities could not determine if the transmission came from the pilot. Moments later, two F-16s were side by side with the airplane. “Land or you will be forced to land,” the F-16 pilots stated. It was never proven that Hagen and Williams had made the threats against the power plant, but they were in possession of 65 pounds of marijuana when the plane was grounded in Ocala.

In May 2002, Salem, Massachusetts resident Scott Fuller, formerly of Ocklawaha, planned to contaminate Salem’s drinking water with five pounds of liquid mercury, which he had stored in a storage facility in the Ocala National Forest.

In 2005, Steven M. Ekberg, then 22, was arrested after investigators learned he was in possession of ricin, one of the world’s most deadly chemical agents. He had been storing it in his mother’s Ocala home. The neighborhood was described as a “quaint and quiet neighborhood.” In addition to the ricin, Ekberg was in possession of other terrorism related materials, including a book titled, “The Anarchist Cookbook.” This case was the second-largest seizure of ricin in the U.S. and occurred right here in Marion County.

And let’s not forget the fact that two of the 9/11 terrorists were at the Ocala Airport just prior to the 9/11 attacks purchasing gas and making other purchases on bank issued credit cards.

According to the Global Terrorism Database, there have been more than 125,000 terrorist attacks around the world since 1970 with the number and casualties from those attacks increasing substantially since 9/11.

The FBI said the measures being taken by law enforcement agencies across the U.S. is not a scare tactic because the threats are very real. They said the amount of homegrown terrorists is on the rise.

A spokesman for the FBI said, “People better wake up and realize they are not as safe as they would like to think.”

Sheriff Blair could not go into detail about specific situations of terrorism, or individuals currently being monitored in Marion County, but he did say, “I am committed to working with Major Bovaird in deterring a tragedy such as the attack in Paris or the January 20 ISIS-inspired “lone wolf” plot by an Ohio man to attack the Capitol Building.”

Working together

“Law enforcement is abandoning the thought process of ‘I’ and ‘us,’ and moving to the thought process of ‘we,'” Major Bovaird said. “Prior to 9/11, Florida didn’t have a standard operating procedure for terrorism. Now we work as a team.”

There are four main areas law enforcement evaluates: Prevention, deterrence, response, and the mitigation (recovery). Major Bovaird said these four pillars are critical in the fight on terrorism.

He said no one wants to respond to a terrorist attack, so the main goal is to prevent an attack.

Because of grant funding, law enforcement has been able to build a complicated, very intricate system for fighting terrorism.

Our region consists of 13 counties:

Marion, Putnam, Levy, Alachua, Bradford, Flagler, St. Johns, Gilchrest, Baker, Nassau, Duval, Union, and Clay counties. The region is referred to as the Regional Domestic Security Task Force or RDSTF.

There are multiple layers of response capabilities within this region, such as bomb squads, SWAT, underwater recovery, and forensics. Marion, Alachua, and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Offices have the three bomb squads on the RDSTF response platform.

Major Bovaird said one the most outstanding aspects of the three bomb squads is that they all train together and they all know each other. He said prior to 9/11 they did not train together.

Another layer is SWAT, and they too train together post 9/11. Every year — twice a year — SWAT commanders get together, and every three years, the state of Florida brings all SWAT teams together to discuss goals, tactics, and equipment.

Major Bovaird said no one agency can effectively respond to an act of terrorism. He said it has to be a joint effort. This effort also includes, among others, fire-rescue, aviation, and medical teams. He said no one person can survive on his or her own, so everyone must help, and that is why law enforcement as a team have created so many layers of specialty units within the RDSTF within the regions in Florida, which is broken into seven regions.

He said the entire infrastructure of the response teams is so complicated it would literally take days and pages of literature to explain it.

An idea of how it works

Let’s say there is an attack on a public building, the situation would follow something like this:

  • 911 call to communications
  • First uniformed officers arrive and either contain or resolve the issue themselves. The Incident Command Structure (ICS) is established and a Unified Command is established based on the current situation. Anytime an active shooter is involved, law enforcement is the lead incident command.
  • If not resolved SWAT is called
  • Hazardous Device Disposal unit is called (Bomb Squad).
  • Negotiations Unit is called
  • Notification is made to our state and federal partners through the Regional Domestic Task Force and the State Warning Point
  • If it’s a confirmed terrorist event, the federal government will designate the FBI as their Lead Federal Agency (LFA)
  • A Joint Operation Center (JOC) is established to integrate all of the state, federal, and local authorities into one seamless incident command.
  • A Joint Information Center is established to incorporate all of the agencies’ public information officers (PIO) at the event and one central location for media access is established
  • A Multi Agency Coordination Center (MACC) could be established or a Regional Law Enforcement Coordination Team (RLECT).
  • In the end the local authorities must deal with the issue and end the crisis
  • Emergency Management assesses the damage and mitigates the damage.

“If something were to happen, we cannot afford to wait for the area to be declared an emergency by the governor. This task force would step in and there would be no waiting for a declaration,” Major Bovaird said.

“While some in the media may not like the selection of Major Bovaird, it is my job to keep the citizens safe from criminals and enemies of all types. And as long as I am sheriff, I will make no apologies for doing everything within my power to make sure I have the right men and women in the right positions to ensure the safety of our citizens and our community,” Sheriff Blair said.

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