The Florida Keys' top cops are moving their headquarters to Sugarloaf Key as the state agency shifts in an effort to better organize its agents.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement station is currently sharing space with the Florida Highway Patrol office in Marathon, where they've been since late 2007, but the move to Sugarloaf Key should better centralize field agents as the Lower Keys become more populated, said FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger.
The FDLE has actually been on the move since Hurricane Wilma in 2005 forced them into a trailer for nine months in Key West. By June of 2006 they set up shop in Habana Plaza on Flagler Avenue where the temporary city hall is now located.
Agents stayed for nearly two years before the budget collapse of 2008 forced them to look for cheaper digs and they moved to Marathon, though one agent stayed behind to work out of an office provided by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.
"Clearly, we couldn't move everyone up to Miami, so we had to find some borrowed space and the only available option was a very small office at the FHP station in Marathon," said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Bob Breeden. "The problem was we couldn't effectively accommodate all our staff and the other problem was it's 50 miles north of Key West, so we were putting a lot of wear and tear on our vehicles."
Though Marathon is centrally located, the Lower Keys are more populated and that typically means more crime, so agents were often separated and littered throughout the Lower and Middle Keys.
"We have people spread out and that can be ineffective when we have a crime analyst at one location and an agent somewhere else," Breeden said. "It's difficult, but we still managed to do our job. Obviously, it was not preferable."
About 10 FDLE agents work in the Keys. Think of the FDLE as a sort of state-run version of the FBI, and its agents often work undercover cases to expose crimes ranging from child pornography and drugs to public corruption. They sometimes, but not always, work with local and federal law enforcement agencies.
The FDLE has jurisdiction everywhere in Florida and is headed by the governor. It also works as Capitol police in Tallahassee.
"Our family in the Keys has been living in three different locations and now we're able to put our family back under one roof, so to speak," Breeden said. "I believe it will pay big dividends and should create some savings."