You may have seen on the news that we had a pretty scary situation happen in the southeast unincorporated part of our county.
I would call it the “wild wild West,” but it’s actually in the far eastern and southern part of Polk.
The area where it occurred encompasses about 88,000 acres – partly on Avon Park Bombing Range property, and partly in the River Ranch Hunt Club area, off of State Road 60 East and County Road 630. The area is popular with hunters and campers.
On Saturday night, Jan. 2, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) Officer was patrolling the fence line inside the Avon Park Bombing Range. Illegal poachers had been reported in the area. He saw two ATVs occupied by three Hispanic males, then heard gunfire, so he jumped over the fence onto the River Ranch property to make contact with them.
Things escalated violently from there. While he was disarming them, they chose to attack him, punched him and eventually ran him over before taking off on their ATVs. Fortunately the officer survived the attack and was able to call for help.
Once he called for help, the cavalry responded.
Now, I don’t know how they do it in other counties or communities, but I can tell you that here in Polk County, an attack on any law enforcement officer is an attack on all officers — and an attack on our law-abiding community. The total amount of personnel who responded to assist that officer in need and search for the suspects exceeded 100. Of course FWC responded, but also two different Sheriff’s Offices — Osceola and Highlands — and four different city police departments in Polk – Auburndale, Lakeland, Lake Wales, and Winter Haven – sent their officers.
And the PCSO deputies came from every district and several specialty units. Together, we set up a tight perimeter, and found two suspects within 12 hours. We reached out to South Florida agencies, and located the third suspect the next day.
The successful response is not unusual here in Polk – we all share the same radio and dispatch system, and we have the ability to patch in other agencies as needed.
Law enforcement agencies all work together here in Polk County, with the common goal of keeping people safe.
Grady Judd is the Sheriff of Polk County. Learn more about Judd and the Polk County Sheriff's Office at polksheriff.org.