MILTON — Before the Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners approved a 10 percent raise for the Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office deputies, Sheriff Bob Johnson said it was impossible to fill position vacancies because no one was applying.

“When you have six or seven openings that you can’t fill, you can ask for 20 more deputies but they will just remain unfilled,” Johnson said in October. “What’s the point?”

“... The county commissioners giving 10 percent sends a message that this is a great place to live and work.”

Current staffers also appreciate the board’s decision.

“I’ve heard from several deputies that work the road and different jobs. They feel appreciated,” Johnson said.

“I hear people comment over and over and Sheriff Johnson made the point at a lunch meeting,” Santa Rosa County Chamber of Commerce Director Donna Tucker said. “When talking to counterparts in neighboring counties, they talk about how they ... don’t feel love from the public like officers here in Santa Rosa County. The people here are so supportive of law enforcement.”

Safety also has been a consideration for people relocating to Santa Rosa County.

“(The crime rate) is often a factor, especially for people ... with children,” real estate agent Cindy Cotton said. “Safety is a major issue.”

However, Cotton said by the time people discuss homes in the area with her, they’ve already made up their minds to move to the county.

Public safety is a matter affecting real estate agents directly, too.

“We have concealed carry permits,” Cotton said. “We get invited to remote locations. We could be personally affected. We’re very proactive.”

Johnson’s increased staff will face a county with additional crime.

The dispatch calls for service in 2015 were 135,039. In 2016 they were 148,527. Johnson estimates 165,000 to 170,000 calls this year.

“What gets me the most is narcotics,” Johnson said. “Narcotics arrests are up 32 percent (2015 to 2016). We’re on tap this year to break that record. The busiest months coming up are July and August.” 

“I’ve never seen crime like it is now and I’ve been on the job 35 years.”