Holiday Giving 

With November’s arrival comes a year’s worth of holiday anticipation and anxious preparation.

As we begin fighting the crowds at shopping malls and filling our calendars with decadent family meals and holiday events, it can be easy to forget that some families struggle to provide even the most basic necessities.

Although several organizations coordinate holiday fundraisers and charity events, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has the unique opportunity to give back to children and families with whom they have met and interacted, sometimes on multiple occasions.

Putting names and faces to the recipients of our holiday giving is added incentive to PCSO members who dedicate additional time and effort to benefitting the less fortunate during the season.

For what is the 15th consecutive year, this month, the Sheriff’s Office will kick off the holiday giving season through a partnership with the Indian Rocks Beach Rotary Club, Beach Community Food Pantry at Calvary Episcopal Church, Pinellas Suncoast Fire Rescue District, and Publix.

The partnership aims to limit the number of families who go hungry by delivering food to families who otherwise could not afford traditional holiday meals around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

Volunteers load patrol cars with hearty Publix meals, including items like fully cooked turkeys, cornbread, mashed potatoes, green beans, loaves of bread, and more, and deputies deliver them to families whom they have identified in their daily work within the community.

Once we finish off the pumpkin pie and pack up the cornucopia, the PCSO sets its sights on hosting the largest law enforcement-organized holiday charity fundraiser in the Tampa Bay Area, which has raised more than $500,000 in donations and proceeds since its inception 25 years ago.

On Saturday, December 1st, Ride & Run With The Stars will celebrate its silver anniversary with the customary day’s worth of family activity including a 5K chipped race, 10K and 25-mile bike rides, a “Challenge” 5K run and 25-mile bike ride combination, and a “Family Fun” 1-mile walk or skate.

Post-race activities include the opportunity to refuel with food truck fare, a Kids Zone with arts and crafts and a climbing wall, a fly-in visit from Mr. and Mrs. Claus on the Sheriff’s Office helicopter, and a silent auction with tables full of gift baskets, vacation tickets, gift certificates, and more.

The only thing more rewarding than a day of family exercise and activity is knowing that the proceeds support the Sheriff’s Christmas Sharing Project, through which PCSO members use the money raised to shop for holiday gifts, clothing, food, and other necessities for families in need.

Like the food drive partnership, the gift packages assembled during Ride & Run With The Stars’ shopping day are hand-delivered by familiar-faced deputies.

If you are interested in getting involved with Ride & Run With The Stars, whether by registering for a race, ordering a t-shirt or Silver Anniversary Challenge Coin, sponsoring the event, or making a donation, contact Lieutenant Joe Gerretz at 727-582-6287, and visit www.rideandrunwiththestars.com for more information.

In the meantime, let the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office be the first to wish you happy thanksgiving, happy holidays, and happy giving!

Posted by Joanna Cheshire Thursday, October 11, 2018 2:03:00 PM

Halloween Safety 

This Halloween, think both creativity AND safety. As important as it is to WOW 'em with your clever ingenuity, costumes should also be sensible: If your children are planning to wear masks, make sure they can see clearly while wearing them. Even if it doesn't fit their characters, ensure your children travel with a flashlight so they can see where they're going, and attach reflective tape to their costumes so that vehicles and the witches, zombies, and ghouls can see them coming.

Although, as always, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office will be on the lookout, there are a number of precautions you and your families can take to ensure everyone comes home safely. While you are unleashing your creative side, take note of these 10 safety tips to keep both adults and children safe this year:

Trick-or-Treating

  • Buy or make costumes in the proper size and length to prevent falls and injuries.
  • Carry a light source, like a flashlight or glow stick, and incorporate lighter colors or something reflective on costumes to ensure trick-or-treaters are visible in the dark.
  • Plan ahead so that young children are always accompanied by an adult. Travel in groups, and cross the street at intersections — do not leave anyone behind. Walk on sidewalks to be visible to drivers and other trick-or-treaters.
  • Maintain communication with someone at home in case of an emergency. If older children go out without supervision, designate a time they must return home.
  • Visit only houses with their porch light on, and never enter a house or vehicle while trick-or-treating.

At Home

  • When carving pumpkins, allow young children to draw designs with markers, and have an adult carve it out, as it is dangerous for young children to operate sharp tools.
  • Use artificial light, such as glow sticks or electronic candles, instead of real candles inside of jack-o'-lanterns to prevent burns and house fires. If you choose to use a real candle, keep open flames away from curtains and other flammable objects.
  • If you plan to pass out candy, remove from your yard items that could be stolen or cause injury, such as garden hoses, toys, and bikes. Also, check that your porch light is working so that trick-or-treaters know you are participating in the festivities.
  • Restrain pets that may frighten or harm visitors at your door.
  • Inspect the candy you collected when you get home. Tampering is rare, but be cautious, and throw away anything expired, open, or questionable.

Last but not least: Don’t eat too much candy – you’ll thank us later!

Posted by Joanna Cheshire Thursday, October 11, 2018 2:01:00 PM

Guardian Training 

On February 14th, Nikolas Cruz shot 34 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17.

Less than a month later, Governor Rick Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. Part of the new legislation requires each district school board and school district superintendent work with law enforcement agencies to assign at least one “safe-school officer” at every school facility in Florida.

In conjunction with this requirement, the Act permits county sheriffs to establish a Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, named after a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School employee who lost his life protecting students during the shooting. The Guardian Program – which is completely voluntary for a sheriff to establish and for a school district to participate in – involves hiring armed “guardians,” who have completed a minimum 132 hours of comprehensive firearm safety and proficiency training, passed a psychological evaluation and drug tests, and completed certified diversity training, to protect school campuses from armed assailants.

The Pinellas County School Board elected to participate in the Guardian Program, hiring almost 90 guardians to complete an extensive training program developed by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) Training Division.

The guardians began the intensive five-week, 176-hour training program Monday, July 2nd, with two days of classroom instruction about diversity and legal issues like the Fourth Amendment and concealed-carry laws.

The following weeks entailed a combination of basic firearms instruction, CPR/TECC certification, defensive tactics education, and scenario-based drills designed to prepare trainees to respond to active assailant incidents on school premises. 

“We have experience levels from retired law enforcement officers and retired military to somebody who was a school bus driver that’s never done law enforcement or any type of firearms training before,” said PCSO Training Division Lieutenant Greg Danzig during the second week of the training program. “So this is a unique experience for us, but so far, the guardians are doing quite well.”

On Friday, August 3rd, 81 men and women received certificates officially certifying them as Pinellas County Schools guardians.

Like law-enforcement-certified school resource officers, guardians are on campus full time to keep students, teachers, and faculty safe. However, there are distinct differences in their duties and limitations. While guardians are armed with a handgun, body armor, and a flashlight, they do not have arrest powers or the authority to detain, interrogate, and/or question subjects. Likewise, guardians do not have patrol vehicles, handcuffs, police radios, or secondary weaponry like school resource officers do.

With the start of the 2018-2019 school year, guardians have taken their posts at elementary and charter schools across the county. The PCSO will continue to provide training in various capacities to guardians throughout the year. 

"Overall, the training program went really well," Lieutenant Danzig said. "Our trainers greatly enjoyed the experience. Being a trainer means taking on new challenges, and this was a large one."

While the program is off to a great start, Pinellas County Schools must employ a total of 110 guardians to cover every school with built-in relief. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a guardian, contact the Pinellas County School Board at board@pcsb.org or 727-588-6300.

Posted by Joanna Cheshire Thursday, October 11, 2018 2:00:00 PM

Back-to-School Traffic Safety 

It’s back-to-school time, so get ready for your first lesson of the school year: traffic safety.

The streets on which your children travel to school are populated by drivers on their cell phones, putting on their makeup, and eating breakfast as they rush to make it to work or to drop off their own kids on time.

In addition to average pedestrians’ usual dangers, like drivers’ blind spots and violations, young children’s slower walking speeds, small statures, minimal traffic experience, still-developing cognitive abilities, and general impulsiveness increase the threat of an accident.

So whether you drive your children to school or you send them to the bus stop, we’ve got some back-to-school traffic safety tips for you and your students.

For you

  • During the school year, you can expect increased traffic in the mornings and afternoons. Allot extra time to get where you’re going to prevent rushing and making careless, dangerous mistakes.
  • It is illegal – not to mention dangerous – to pass a school bus when it displays its stop signal. So unless the roadway is divided by an unpaved space of at least 5 feet, a raised median, or a physical barrier, hit the brakes while students board and disembark the bus.
  • There is a reason that speeding fines are doubled in school zones and designated school crossings. Be alert for signs designating such areas as well as for school crossing guards who will help direct you.

For your kids

  • Riding the bus? Stand at least three giant steps from the curb while waiting for the bus. Stay there until it comes to a complete stop and opens the doors before boarding.
  • Riding a bicycle? Florida law requires children under age 16 to wear a helmet while riding a bike. Check bikes regularly to ensure they’re properly maintained, and remember the basic rules of the road: ride in a single-file line on the right side of the road, make a complete stop at stop signs and intersections, and walk bikes across busy streets.
  • Drivers aren’t the only ones whose distractions can be deadly. While a rowdy travel-buddy, a cell phone, a video game, or a forgotten homework assignment may vie for pedestrians’ attention, paying attention to the sidewalks, roads, and directions from school crossing guards take priority – always.

So as you ease back into the school year, make sure that with alarm clocks, homework, and afterschool activities, you add everyday traffic safety to your weekday routine.

Posted by Joanna Cheshire Thursday, October 11, 2018 1:59:00 PM

Vessel Checks 

Did you know that many equipment requirements for boaters depend on the size of the vessel and/or the boaters’ intended destination?

While it can be tricky to determine exactly what safety items must be present, where they should go, and when, it is vital to your safety – and others’ – that you are well equipped before you set out to sea.

To relieve any confusion, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is hosting free vessel equipment checks at Pinellas County boat ramps monthly throughout the summer.

One weekend each month through September, Marine Unit deputies will be stationed on land at two boat ramps in the county. They will circulate throughout the parking lot to ensure boaters have all the legally required equipment specific to their vessels before they launch.

Examples of what deputies will be checking for include:

  • The proper number of personal flotation devices
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Flares or other visual distress signals
  • Proper lighting for evenings/nights or periods of reduced visibility, like rain or fog

Marine Unit deputies had a rainy start to the vessel equipment check program, hosting the first events of the season Saturday, May 19th, at Pinellas War Veterans Memorial Park Boat Ramp and Sunday, May 20th, at Fort De Soto Park Boat Ramp.

By conducting these vessel equipment checks, deputies hope to inform boaters who are missing a required item about the issue before they reach the water, where they could be issued a citation for the problem.

We also encourage you to use this opportunity to ask deputies questions about boating safety, navigating local waters, and anything law enforcement-related about which you are unsure.

Visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) website for a list of other mandatory items based on your boat type: http://myfwc.com/boating/safety-education/equipment/

Posted by Joanna Cheshire Thursday, October 11, 2018 1:56:00 PM

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