by James Coulter
Polk County is becoming the fastest-growing county in Florida. In the past three years alone, more than 80,000 new residents moved to the county. That number is equal to the combined population of Winter Haven, Lake Wales, and Dundee, or roughly two-thirds of the population of Lakeland.
Some people are moving to Polk County to retire. Others are seeking better jobs and lower taxes. Sheriff Judd has talked to many new residents, and they have told him that they moved to Florida to escape the rampant crime waves of the cities up north.
“Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t say, ‘I moved to Florida to get away from the crime.
I want to feel safe and be safe,’” Sheriff Judd said. “Well, you can feel safe because you are.”
However, Sheriff Judd has important advice to newcomers seeking the safety and security of Polk County: don’t vote the same way they voted up north.
“We welcome you with open arms, and we are glad you are here,” he said. “But do me a favor: don’t vote the way the majority of people voted in the state that you came from, or else we will have here what they have there because all of that is a policy decision.”
Sheriff Judd shared this advice during a Chamber Power Luncheon, hosted by the Lake Wales Chamber of Commerce at Vanguard School on Wednesday.
Currently, Polk County is experiencing a record 51-year-low crime rate. The crime rate in Polk County is about 1.1 crimes per 100 people per year. The state of Florida’s is about 2 crimes per 100 people per year. In stark contrast, many other cities have crime rates between 12 to 20 per 100 people per year, Judd claimed.
Sheriff Judd owes these all-time lows due to their “tough-on-crime” approach to law enforcement. Unlike other states and cities, Polk County takes crime seriously. They do not allow criminals to walk away with a slap on the wrist. If someone commits a crime, Sheriff Judd and his deputies ensure that the person sees a jail cell.
For example, Sheriff Judd recalled a domestic incident involving visitors from up north. When his deputies arrived on the scene, the culprit pushed passed one deputy and punched the person who had called. His deputy then introduced the culprit’s face to the ground before loading him into a patrol car. When informed he was going to jail, the suspect complained that this wasn’t how things were handled in New York City.
“Sire, look around,” the deputy told him. “Do you see the Empire State Building? We’re not in New York City. We’re in Polk County.”
In contrast, Sheriff Judd mentioned an incident in another city where a woman had called the police about a man trespassing in her backyard. The officers arrived, escorted him to the front
yard, and gave him a citation before driving away and leaving him standing in her front yard. Before they left, the woman asked why they were leaving the man at her house. The officers replied it was against the law to put him in jail.
“They moved him from her backyard to her front yard,” Sheriff Judd said. “She did not feel safe.”
Before closing, Sheriff Judd told the audience that, if they wanted to see crime rates remain low, they needed to vote for people committed to keeping it low by properly enforcing and supporting local law enforcement. They needed to vote for the “right people” on the local, county, and state levels.
“I thank you that you put the decision-makers in place to make the right decisions at the right time,” he said. “So, pat yourself on the back and say we deserve the best police services in the nation and the people we hire do it the right way.”
Sheriff Judd shared his powerful message at the Chamber Power Luncheon on Tuesday. The event was hosted by the Lake Wales Chamber of Commerce at Vanguard School. The event presenting sponsor was Atlantic Blue Capital, the table sponsor was Low Payment Kings, and the supporting sponsor was Shield Medical Group.
Ellis Hunt Jr., Chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission, likewise commended the Honorable Sheriff and his team for making Polk County a safe place to move and live. He boasted how residents can “take for granted you can dial 911 and help is minutes away” all through the hard work of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
David Dlugokecki, Chairman of the Lake Wales Chamber, boasted about how many new people were planning on moving to Florida, and how the city of Lake Wales was planning the right way for this growing population. He owed this population and economic growth to the safety and security provided by Sheriff Judd.
“It is no secret that people are fleeing big cities and finding a safe place to raise children,” Dlugokecki said. “Thank you, Grady. People who come here like hearing what a safe place to live. With you and your team, that is important to us.”