Osceola County residents trust, respect law enforcement, report says

Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson speaks with a supporter shortly after his inauguration in January 2017. Resident surveys show most people in Osceola County trust law enforcement officers, believe officers work to protect the public and treat people fairly.

Despite some staffing and recruitment issues, public attitudes toward the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office and police overall were generally positive, according to a new University of Central Florida report released this month.

Researchers focused on challenges facing Osceola’s largest law enforcement agency in the face of continued population growth, but also explored how the public views deputies and their impact on the community.

Results showed most people trust law enforcement officers, believe officers work to protect the public and treat people fairly.

A majority of respondents thought that the services provided by OCSO are more important than those provided by any other government agency and believed the levels of services were adequate.

“Clearly, Osceola residents value the work that OCSO does in the community,” the report stated.  

The UCF team surveyed 378 residents over 15 months through mail-in and face-to-face to collect data.

Most of the respondents said serious crimes were not an issue in their specific neighborhoods, but instead cited issues with things like noisy neighbors or messy, unkempt yards.

Researchers noted these results are typical of community surveys nationwide, where people tend to experience little dangerous crime and are more concerned with quality-of-life conditions.

One exception to these findings was the perception of buying, selling and using illegal drugs in the local area; something researchers said may be tied to an ongoing national heroin and opioid epidemic.

“The OCSO might look for ways to inform the public that it views drug addiction as a serious medical condition requiring treatment,” the report suggested, “and that it is committed to assisting in the effort to prevent and treat addiction.”

Many residents said an increase in routine neighborhood patrols would make them feel safer.

Things like traffic, parking and housing emerged as areas of trouble for a significant portion of people. The Sheriff’s Office often has little to no jurisdiction over these issues, the report noted, but continued efforts to partner with county agencies and sponsor youth programs could help bolster the already positive public perception of the department, according to the report.

Thirty-one percent of residents surveyed said they had some form of contact with a Sheriff’s Office deputy in the last 12 months for some reason (traffic stop, reported a crime, attended a public meeting where a deputy was present, etc.)

A majority of those who had personal contact (more than 72 percent) said officers were respectful, treated them fairly and took time to listen to concerns.

“Whatever the OCSO might do to increase their engagement will add to the existing levels of high-quality service that the community already receives,” UCF researchers concluded.