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NEWBERRY – Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell delivered a 2019 state of the City report on law enforcement at the beginning of the July 13 virtual City Commission meeting.

Darnell said the purpose of her presentation was to improve services and operations, enhance relationships with the community, identify gaps in services, develop short- and long-term goals and plan joint strategies for problem solving.

Darnell reported that the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) responded to 6,706 calls in Newberry during the 2019 calendar year, which was an increase of 951 over the previous year. Of those calls, 832 actual case reports were written with 217 of them as a result of major crimes committed within the city. The majority of those crimes were the result of domestic violence, which topped out at 120. Burglary of a Conveyance and Assault and Battery clocked in at 29 and 28 calls, respectively. A flurry of business, residence and other burglaries, along with eight stolen vehicles were also listed. Six sexual battery crimes were committed during that time period with one robbery at the bottom of the list of cases.

Previous to this year, Darnell said she would expect approximately 50 domestic violence calls per month. However, from January to July this year, the average has increased to 70 domestic violence calls per month. She pointed out that people are under much more pressure this year and many are out of work, which could be contributing to the dramatic increase in those types of calls.

Darnell also reported on solved notable cases, the first of which was recovery of a vehicle stolen from Citrus County and a subsequent arrest for grand theft auto, which also resulted in a possession of a controlled substance charge for the driver.

A second arrest was made for a hit and run crash involving a driver and passenger in which the driver who caused the crash left the scene without stopping to render assistance or alert law enforcement. The two injured parties were taken to the hospital and the perpetrator was located at his home and arrested.

A third was a burglary at Pro Pawn Shop in which six handguns were stolen. An off-duty school resource officer recognized one of the subjects from the video of the break in. Officers spotted the juvenile out walking with his family and observed him hand off a gun to his brother. Following up, that gun was confiscated and two more guns were found in the defendant’s home. The juvenile and a co-defendant were charged on multiple charges including Grand Theft of a Firearm, Burglary, Criminal Mischief and Carrying a Concealed Firearm.

During her presentation, Darnell also reviewed four of Newberry’s unsolved cases. The first involved a fire at Newberry High School in September 2019. That incident resulted in destruction of a forklift on the school’s baseball field. A second fire in a bale of hay three days later, also at Newberry High School, was quickly extinguished by a school staff member.

Another unsolved crime involved a construction site burglary in November by a couple who cut the lock on the fence, pried through a metal door and stole several copper wire rolls. Although videos of the suspects and likely vehicles were obtained, the crime remains unsolved.

The last crime she mentioned occurred in 2010. It was the murder of Lila Leach, who was attacked in her home and died of the injuries she sustained. A billboard at the entrance to Newberry offered an $8,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible. Darnell says the reward is now at $10,000. “Advances in DNA technology have narrowed the search for the perpetrator,” said Darnell.

Darnell showed photographs of Newberry residents who are on the Sexual Offenders/Predators List. Of the 19, two are females. One male is technically listed as a sexual offender, which is someone convicted of or who has pled no contest or guilty to a sexual offense involving a minor.

Darnell also talked about the various juvenile relations programs ACSO participates in with children. “Some of these programs have been put on hold during COVID-19, but Kickball with a Cop was one of the programs we were able to do with social distancing,” she said. “The kids had a great time and the deputies did, too. It was extremely hot, but they were rewarded with an ice cream truck at the end of that game.”

She also reviewed some of the City events ACSO participated in during 2019. They included Movie Night at the Park, Operation C.O.N.E. at the Criminal Justice Expo, Youth Dialogue at Newberry High School, the Newberry Christmas Parade, tree lighting and Newberry Toy Giveaway.

Although school is not in session right now, the School Resource Officers are staying in touch with the kids. “They visit with them at the end of the kids’ driveways and follow up when school officials are unable to locate the child or parent.” She said one officer was reading to the kids at night via social media. “The children really enjoy it and it’s good for them to see adults read,” she said.

She closed her presentation by reminding everyone that if they see suspicious activity, say something.

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