Sheriff Grinnell addressed his Lake County constituents in a 95-second video, which was posted on Friday, saying he was aware of the “serious issue” of heroin abuse in the area. He encouraged people to call the office with tips.
Face masked on video:
The video went viral, garnering about a million views on the Facebook page of the sheriff’s office as the sheriff stood at a podium flanked by four deputies wearing black face coverings.
The video sparked concerns about police militarization and drew more than a few comparisons to Islamic State recruitment videos.
However, several residents of Lake County responded positively to the video. They thanked the sheriff, who was elected last November, for drawing attention to a deadly scourge that has changed their community beyond recognition.
In the video, the sheriff says: “To the dealers that are pushing this poison, I have a message for you. Enjoy trying to sleep tonight, wondering if tonight’s the night our SWAT team blows your front door off the hinges,” he said. “We are coming for you. If our agents can show the nexus between you, the pusher of poison, and the person that overdoses and dies, we will charge you with murder. We are coming for you. Run.”
Sheriff Grinnell and the four deputies walked offscreen in a silent, single file, at the end of the video.
Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project, Ezekiel Edwards said: “It makes the Lake County Sheriff’s Department look like they’re about to go to battle in Falluja. SWAT teams, he added, should be used only when there is an imminent threat to human life. “That video suggested that they are using SWAT inappropriately, and in a way that is going to escalate violence and danger to all involved.”
However, spokesman for the sheriff’s office Lt. John Herrell stated that residents have had positive views regarding the video, saying: “I would say that the critics are off the mark and have missed the whole point of the message. The sheriff wanted to let the community know that he’s aware of this problem.”
He explained that the tough tone was for dealers, not addicts. And the men in black masks are undercover deputies required by the state to keep their identities hidden.
52 year old Kim Mousette believes it’s time for the police to take a tougher approach to heroin abuse in the county, as they have been largely been unresponsive to complaints. She voted for Sheriff Grinnell last year and now she feels she made the right choice.
Following Florida’s state legislature cracked down on loosely regulated pain clinics, heroin abuse surged in Lake County, as people lost easy access to prescription drugs like OxyContinthey turned to heroin.
However, the opioid blight has been a national issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015 almost 13,000 people died of heroin overdoses across the country, up 20.6% from 2014.
Former Lake County resident Nicole Boone, 27, had several family members suffer from addiction, she believes that the video is only a starting point. Adding that efforts should be exerted to help addicts recover and integrate them back to society.
Criticism of the video:
The video was heavily criticized by a lot of people. Some compared it to Islamic State recruitment videos, pointing to the militants wearing black ski masks. While others used it as an example of the over-militarization of police forces across the United States.
The opioid addiction is a serious issue, and should be addressed, but that’s not the right way, according to Edwards of the A.C.L.U.
He said: “Even though it’s just one local video, it does, in a very short amount of time, encapsulate much of what is wrong with policing today: militarization, using force inappropriately, and continuing to fight a drug war that has proved to be a failure.”
Robert Vibert, 35, resident of Tavares, where the county sheriff’s office is said that he found the video overly dramatic, adding: “I’m sure he means well, but his approach is lackluster and a waste if he doesn’t tackle the totality of the problem. Without attacking supply lines, and helping addicts and users get clean, it won’t ever really solve the problem.”