Eyewitness News requested travel documents for 2009 and 10. Our exclusive investigation found more than $424-thousand dollars worth of travel for LCSO employees in that two year period.
It’s a country with great historic and religious significance. Modern day Israel has also been a frequent target of terrorism. This Middle Eastern Country was also the destination for four members of the Leon County Sheriff’s Office. Major Mike Wood was part of the group who went for terrorism training.
“I think it’s a worthy investment for the safety of the community,” said Wood.
“Sending people half way around the world to get training they could probably get here, I can’t imagine that it is,” said Abbie McIver of the government watchdog group “Americans For Prosperity”.
Eyewitness News looked at LCSO travel records for 2009 and 2010. Four other high ranking LCSO officers went to Israel in 2009 at a cost of just under $20-thousand dollars.
One of them retired less than three years later. Another one quit to go into a family business.
Major Wood says the trips aren’t designed to instruct those people how to train subordinates, so the information wasn’t passed on.
Additionally, Homeland Security Captain Rob Swearingen was sent to New Mexico in September, 2009 for terrorism training and then two months later, went to Israel for terrorism training. “I don’t think there’s a redundancy,” said Wood.
The trips to Israel are only part of what the sheriff’s office spent on travel in 2009 and 2010. The total spent in those two years was nearly $425-thousand dollars.
McIver points out the traveling by LCSO employees comes as county commissioners raised property taxes due to a money shortfall. “There’s so many ways now that we can do training, whether they’re in person or whether they’re remotely,” said McIver.
“Certainly I don’t discount that, I think we have to be innovative because the one thing I would tell you that it’s all taxpayer money and we’re accountable,” said Wood.
Not all the travel was training related, for example in 2009, Sheriff Larry Campbell made five trips on the taxpayer dime.
They included trips for the national and state sheriff’s associations and the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce annual meeting.
Those destinations included the PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club and the San Destin Golf & Beach Resort.
Total cost for the sheriff’s trips that year, just under $29-hundred.
“The sheriff attends those conferences and certainly doesn’t decide where they’re held at,” said Major Wood.
“They sound extravagant, they sound like they’d be lovely vacations,” said MacIver.
The Alaska trip was for a crime prevention association meeting at a cost of about $2000. The Las Vegas trip was for a Personal Radiation Detection conference. The cost was just under $1400.
Major Wood says LCSO’s travel and training budgets are about the same as other similar sized law enforcement agencies.