Former Lake Helen Police Chief Michael Walker takes over a Bunnell Police Department in turmoil after a quick search

Michael Anthony Walker is the new Bunnell Police Chief. (© FlaglerLive)

When Michael Anthony Walker was a police officer in Lake Helen sixteen years ago, he was on an I-4 flyover where he spoke for an hour to a 43-year-old man who had looped a power cord and was about to jump . Walker’s effort was worth it. He talked the man down. Walker served as Lake Helen Police Chief for 11 years until April last year. Today he was named Bunnell Police Chief.

Bunnell City Manager Alvin Jackson made the announcement this afternoon, introducing Walker, 57, in a strangely choreographed and unprecedented “press conference” on the sidewalk of the Chicken Pantry mall, where the city has its temporary offices. Jackson did so just under three weeks after the job posting was posted in mid-December, despite the fact that the holidays were temporarily shortening working days. Walker was one of only five applicants, none from Flagler County. Lake Helen’s population is slightly smaller than Bunnell’s: 2,700 people, compared to 3,500 for Bunnell and an estimated 4,000 by 2024.

Tom Foster, police chief since 2014, opted to step down in early December, in the wake of a devastating performance review by Jackson that included a 30-day ultimatum to meet a long list of improvements. He’s been the boss since 2014 and hadn’t had bad performance ratings before. Shortly after his resignation, long-time Sergeant Matt Mortimer, whose allegedly faulty behavior at work was the focus of Jackson’s criticism of Foster, resigned – and immediately applied to serve as deputy sheriff of Flagler County. Weeks earlier, Dominic Guida, the department’s only other sergeant, died during training.

The changes left an already demoralized Bunnell police department leaderless and Jackson faced the worst crisis of his tenure as a manager. The upheaval prompted him to win an old friend as interim boss: Brannon Snead. Snead was not present in today’s advertisement, nor did he apply for the position. Jackson said Snead will remain the interim chief until the Bunnell City Commission confirms Walker’s appointment at a January 24 meeting. Snead is a former Florida Highway Patrol soldier whose long tenure there ended abruptly following an internal investigation. He had previously applied to be a City Manager in Bunnell.

“He wasn’t interested. He didn’t apply. And he didn’t make an offer, ”said Jackson. “If he had applied, he would definitely have been one I would have considered.”

Walker was forced to retire from Lake Helen in April last year, but only because he was participating in the Deferred Retirement Option Program known as Drop, which requires participants to hand in their papers after five years, receive a large pension, and get out of the system Must hold out for at least six months. Walker did this. He had started as an officer in Lake Helen in 1989, a year after he was an officer in Daytona Beach Shores. But he said today he loved the job too much not to return. He and his family will continue to live in Lake Helen. He is issued a city vehicle and the city pays for his travel gas, as did his predecessor Tom Foster, who lived in Ormond Beach, and Armando Martinez, who lived in Brevard County and commuted there daily. at the expense of the city.

Walker said he was unfamiliar with Bunnell prior to applying, other than that he drove through a long time ago. He described himself as coming from a family of law enforcement officers, including his father who was the police chief in Holly Hill. He performed with his wife and two of his six children and introduced them to a small gathering of reporters and workers or business owners nearby, some of whom did what has become a routine at any staged event that seems out of the ordinary: you took it on their phones.

“I spoke to the officers here. My goal and what I envision for the future in Bunnell is one of the top rated cities in the United States, ”Walker said at the sidewalk conference this afternoon. “You have a bad reputation, now we’re going to change that. We’re going to make this a very exciting adventure. ”With a bad reputation, he later made clear that he was referring to Bunnell’s crime rate, which is disproportionately higher per capita than anywhere else in the county, largely due to disproportionate arrests. Walker said he would be in favor of the Neighborhood Watch program and Citizens on Patrol, known in Flagler County as COPS, even though the sheriff’s citizens on patrol are tightly regulated and limited in authority: they replace officers and serve only as auxiliaries, bureaucratic ones or non-police duties.

“The population there is diverse, but I associate with everyone,” Walker said of Lake Helen, “and I want all of my officers to get off. I’m very strong at community-based or community-based policing. You have to get out and be part of the community. ”

Walker, however, was rather harsh when asked where he stood on the Black Lives Matter movement. “I think all lives are important. I think all lives are important, ”he said. All are the same. That’s all. All are the same. I treat everyone and the officers will treat everyone equally. “

A reporter asked him who he had turned to given the different interpretations of terms related to policing in the community. “When I talk about community police – as I spoke to the officers earlier – everyone has, you have spoken to everyone, you are not skipping anyone. You stop and talk to everyone. It’s very important that the community supports you, and they won’t support you if you don’t support them, if you don’t get out and become a part of them. “

The names of the other applicants were requested from the city administration, but the names were not disclosed prior to the publication of this article. Walker was out of sight when Jackson began speaking from a podium with Bunnell’s logo on the front. Jackson started a long introduction that had nothing to do with the announcement – a kind of booster address to the State of the City that started with detailed geographic coordinates about Bunnell (a TV crew was in: Bunnell rarely does it on TV), then roughly a number of previously reported developments in the city. He noted, for example, that the city has acquired the land on Commerce Parkway, which will soon be building a new town hall and police station, which will likely provide a more stately setting for future press conferences and Jackson’s signature line, which he naturally provided (“It is another great day in beautiful Bunnell ”). At one point he spoke of the “jewel” in the city’s old Coquina City Hall and then referred to the ongoing expansion of Grand Reserve, the city’s rapidly growing housing estate. Reporters had to wait almost 10 minutes for it to get on the news.

“I’m here to tell you that I made a choice, made an offer, and he accepted,” Jackson said of the new police chief without naming him. “Let me tell you about the process.” Then he did not explain how the chief was selected, whether he was interviewed by various panels, as was the case with previous police chief appointments, or who the panelists were (Jackson has none Calls or text about it answered questions), but that formal appointment would have to wait until ratification by the city commission later this month.

“It was very important to find a person who had experience with small towns,” said Jackson, “cities that grew, cities that grew, one who communicates with the community and, most importantly, has officials in their hearts and really [is] is committed to the community. And so this afternoon, “he said after almost 13 minutes,” I would like to introduce our new police chief, Chief Michael Walker. “

Walker and members of his family then emerged from one of the storefronts that serves as the city manager’s administrative office.

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