DAYTONA BEACH -- Despite the press release marketing of Daytona Beach Police Chief Michael Chitwood in the daily print newspaper, Daytona Beach has the distinction of being the most dangerous city in Florida and the 34th most dangerous in the United States. Chitwood himself is a living testament to the danger distinction, nearly having his finger bitten off by a man who allegedly said he wanted to kill cops. Headline Surfer's investigative project, "How Safe Are We?" begins Sunday.
The proliferation of handguns and the immense drug dealing has turned parts of the city into a war zone with five murders since November -- two of them this month alone. Four of the five homicide victims were men shot to death. The fifth was beaten to death, stripped naked, except for his socks, with his body dumped on the roof of the Peabody Auditorium. Only the most recent homicide has resulted in the alleged killer being apprehended and charged. That means at least four, or perhaps more, killers -- who have already shed the blood of the other known homicide victims -- remain out there with the potential to kill again.
The spate of homicides have been particularly brutal with the intent of cold blooded murder executed to perfection -- a 21-year-old man shot in the back of the head. Another man shot in the back while on a bicycle. Two other men gunned down in the gunned down in the street in a hail of bullets.
Headline Surfer will take you beyond the one-liners of a microphone-hogging police chief to the mean streets that get little or no attention from municipal or county government and the proliferation of violence, perpetuated by drugs, lack of jobs, lax zoning and code enforcement and government's fixation on the core tourist area while ignoring whole sections of a city steeped in segregation and racism that its new mayor, Derrick Henry, has promised to transform into "one city, one vision."
You'll see a contrast between an educated African-American leader in Mayor Henry and the machismo of Police Chief Michael Chitwood and his "Bufford Pusser" approach to crime fighting. We'll contrast Chitwood's community dealings with the double-standard we've uncovered in how he protects his captains while selling out rank-and-file cops to the press in our continuing double-award winning investigative series, "Daytona PDs Internal Affairs." We'll also take you to Chitwood's former stomping grounds and show you the origins of his colorful name-calling such as "scumbag" and "knucklehead."
This double-pronged investigative project, the most intense in modern journalism, is built upon the principles of "power reporting." Headline Surfer will provide a clear, written narrative, with strong fact-based reporting, in a multi-media format along with comprehensive statistical analysis and crime mapping as well as video and audio.
The reporting will no doubt be controversial with the police chief refusing to cooperate, but it will evoke emotion and hopefully lead to positive change, if indeed, Daytona wants to build on its international tourism brand with NASCAR's Daytona International Speedway, highlighted by the Great American Race -- the Daytona 500; and with the recent approval of two new high rises to complement the World's Most Famous Beach.