“Fort Walton Beach is one of the friendliest communities I have ever been in. People really appreciate what the military, the police, and first responders do here.” Grateful words spoken by Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Ed Ryan about the city that became his home a little over a year ago.
Chief Ryan was sworn in as Fort Walton Beach’s Police Chief on July 5, 2016. “I knew as young as 12 or 13 that I wanted to be a police officer,” he says. “I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, and my Dad worked with Norfolk police officers, so I was around them a lot. I always saw them as role models.”
Chief Ryan started his career as a police officer in 1984 in Norfolk, a city of over 246,000 people. He started out as a street officer in a rough area of Norfolk called Ocean View and spent five years on that beat there. “That was eye-opening.” he notes.
He then spent time as a captain and commanding officer of the detective division and the personnel liaison/training divisions. Chief Ryan became the assistant police chief in Norfolk in December of 2010. He earned degrees in Criminal Justice from St. Leo University while on the job.
In late 2014, he began looking for a job as a police chief and saw that Fort Walton Beach was advertising for a new one. He went through the interview process and made it to the top five. “I had never heard of Fort Walton Beach,” Chief Ryan says. “I brought my wife Joyce down for my interview, and we drove around the area. We really liked the community and thought it would be a nice fit for us.”
The list was then shortened to three candidates including Chief Ryan. Fort Walton Beach City Manager Michael Beedie and Human Resources Director Tarey Franxman went to Norfolk to observe Chief Ryan in the workplace. After that, they offered him the job. Chief Ryan retired from the Norfolk Police Department in June 2016 and arrived in Fort Walton Beach a month later.
Chief Ryan cannot say enough good things about Fort Walton Beach’s police officers. “We have good, professional officers. They do a remarkable job everyday.” He has urged his officers to be community-oriented, to get out of their cars and make contact with people. There is a lot of community outreach as well.
“We do ‘High-Five Fridays’ at Edwins, Elliot Point, and Kenwood Elementary Schools. We are out there when the kids are being dropped off. We give them high-fives as they are coming in and tell them to have a nice day. The kids and the teachers love it,” Chief Ryan says. The police department also participates in the Aspire program at Edwins and Elliot Point—it’s an after school program in which officers and police department staff help students with homework and reading.
Fort Walton Beach PD Sergeant Candy Galindo looks for ways to assist the homeless in the city. She collects blankets and partners with local churches to help them. “The homeless population here is not aggressive for the most part. Most of them follow the rules,” Chief Ryan says.
As for the drug problem in the city, Chief Ryan notes that the department has a three-officer street crime unit to combat the problem. Twenty-eight Fort Walton Beach PD officers have been through crisis intervention training and know how to respond to both drug and mental health crisis situations. Officers are also issued Narcan to treat drug overdoses in emergency situations.
“I would like to see a central recovery center in Okaloosa County for substance abuse and mental health issues,” the chief says. “There would be services there to help people when they are brought in by police officers.”
He adds, “We are presently cultivating a group of young police officers and giving them the tools and skills they need to do their job. They are the next generation of leaders.”
The father of two daughters and grandfather of three feels thankful that he gets to do this job and that the city of Fort Walton Beach had enough faith in him to hire him. “There are always positive things going on,” he says.