Pinellas County has miles of beautiful multi-purpose paved trails for bike riders. In addition, many roads have designated bicycle lanes to make your recreational ride or commute safer. With the warm weather here, more bikes are on our roads. As a bicyclist you must take measures to have a safer ride. And as a driver you need to be aware of a bicyclist’s vulnerability. May is National Bike Month, and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) wants you to enjoy your ride safely.
As a bike rider:
Bike riders and passengers under 16 are required to wear a helmet – but it is a good idea for ALL bike riders. Of all bike fatalities in Florida, 40 percent are from traumatic brain injuries. The helmet must be worn properly to be effective: low on the forehead and strapped snugly under the chin.
When you are riding in the road you must obey all traffic control devices, just like cars. Stay in marked lanes, obey lights and stop signs, and signal any turns. Always go in the same direction as traffic.
Florida law states that if you ride your bike at night, you need a headlight that is visible from 500 feet, and a taillight and reflector on the back that are visible from 600 feet.
Be alert – don’t wear headphones that prevent you from hearing traffic and other things around you. Florida statute prohibits operation of a vehicle while wearing headphones – remember, a bicycle counts as a vehicle when on the road. The exception is a headset used with a cell phone that only has sound in one ear.
Be visible and predictable. Don’t dart between vehicles or make maneuvers that a motorist can’t anticipate. Wear bright colors for visibility.
You can get a DUI on a bicycle. Aside from legal considerations, riding a bike while impaired puts you at greater risk for an accident. If you are too impaired to drive, you are too impaired to ride a bicycle. Call a friend, taxi, or utilize a ride share service. You may even be able to get a ride share that can transport your bike too. If not, lock it up and get it when you’re sober.
It is legal to ride a bike on the sidewalk, even if there is a bike lane available. When riding on the sidewalk, Pinellas Trail, or other path for pedestrians, wheels yield to feet. Let walkers and runners have the right of way. When passing someone who is on foot, give an audible signal, such as a bell, horn, or say, “Passing on your left.”
As a motorist:
Always be alert for bicyclists and other pedestrians. Slow down in high-pedestrian areas.
Drivers must give bicyclists at least three feet of clearance when passing or driving alongside of them.
Yield to bicyclists and other pedestrians entering crosswalks. Remember that all sides of an intersection are considered crosswalks, whether marked or not. Don’t pass a stopped vehicle at a crosswalk – the stopped car might obscure a pedestrian.
If you come to a turn when there is a bicycle in the bike lane, let them make their turn first.
National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week is April 9-15, 2023. It recognizes the dispatchers and operators who have helped save thousands of lives since 911 began in 1968. Pinellas County 911, which is under the jurisdiction of the county, and our own PCSO dispatchers who communicate directly with our deputies work side-by-side in the Regional 911 Center in Largo. It can be hard to stay calm and think clearly when calling 911, but knowing some facts about placing a 911 call will help public safety telecommunicators get you the assistance you need.
When to call 911: Call 911 when you need immediate assistance from law enforcement, the fire department, or an ambulance. You must make the decision about what constitutes an emergency. If you see or experience a crime you should call 911 most of the time, but there are a few minor situations where you could call a law enforcement agency’s non-emergency number. In general, if the event is occurring right now you should call 911. If someone is on your property committing vandalism you would call 911. However if you wake up to discover that your house has been egged or tagged with graffiti, you should call the non-emergency number. In the latter case a deputy will still come take a report and use the same investigative skills to find the perpetrator, but they won’t have to drive to your residence immediately or at a high rate of speed as they might if the perpetrator was still on your property. They can prioritize crimes that are in-progress.
Likewise, if you are in a major car accident that involves injuries or road blockage, or a hit and run, call 911. If you get in a minor fender-bender though, move the vehicles off the road and depending on the parties’ preference either exchange information without a report or call the non-emergency number.
Don’t call 911 for general information. If you have questions about laws, policy, our agency, or anything that is not an emergency you can reach the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) at our non-emergency number, 727-582-6200.
For medical emergencies, something like chest pains or severe bleeding would definitely need a 911 call. You should call 911 for any fire, even if you’ve managed to put it out yourself. Fire department personnel can make sure that the fire is completely extinguished.
If you think your situation may be an emergency, don’t hesitate to call even if you aren’t completely sure. Some people are afraid to call, or embarrassed, or think they might be wasting a deputy’s time with their problem. When in doubt, call 911. Operators can help determine the level of the emergency and the appropriate response.
What to tell them: The 911 operator has a list of questions to determine the nature of your emergency. While you may want to blurt out a story, it is best to let the operator ask questions to ensure that information is relayed where it needs to go in the most efficient fashion. Let them know succinctly whether it is a medical emergency, a fire, or a crime, and then answer their questions about your location and call-back number. After that you will be able to provide more details about the emergency. The 911 operator will prompt you to help find out what they need.
911 operators are also trained to provide detailed instructions to callers in some situations. For example, if you call about someone having a heart attack they can talk you through CPR or the use of an AED.
If you live in an area serviced by the PCSO and call to report a crime, you may be transferred to a PCSO dispatcher who will communicate both with you and responding deputies to give them the most complete and updated information. Stay calm and answer all the questions they ask you. Deputies now have access to a live 911 feed on their in-car laptops so they can hear what a caller is reporting in real time. A responding deputy can hear vital information such as a suspect’s description or direction of travel as soon as the caller reports it. If they are away from their vehicle, a dispatcher relays the information as quickly as possible.
If you call 911 by accident: Kids play with phones, fingers slip, and people make mistakes. If you accidentally call 911, don’t hang up. Many people panic or get embarrassed and think if they hang up quickly it will be ignored, but no 911 calls are ever ignored. Deputies are dispatched every day to 911 hang-ups that aren’t emergencies at all, just accidental dials, and this is a waste of resources that could be better used for saving lives. Instead of hanging up, calmly explain that everything is okay and you called inadvertently. If you hang up, a law enforcement officer will be dispatched to check on you.
Calling 911 in an emergency can be stressful but public safety telecommunicators are trained to help keep you calm and talk you through the process. Understanding when to call 911 and what to do once you reach them will help make the process easier.
The IRS is never going to call, email, text, or contact you on social media out of the blue. If you receive an unexpected call or message claiming to be from the IRS, it is a scammer. Almost all of the time, contact from the IRS will be in the form of a letter… but even a letter can be a scam. Here are some tips for this tax season to make sure criminals don’t get their hands on your hard-earned money.
One ploy scammers use is to promise you something too good to be true. You may get a notification that the IRS has recalculated your refund and you are entitled to a lot more money. All you have to do is send them a form with all of your personal information on it, including your social security number, bank account number, and maybe even passwords. You’ll never see a penny, but scammers will use the information to access your bank account, open lines of credit in your name, or even pretend to be you and file for your refund.
Scammers will also try to create a sense of urgency to make you act without thinking. They want to scare you. Here are some of the things they might say:
You owe taxes… and you need to pay it in gift cards or crypto. The IRS will never ask you to pay by those methods. Neither will any other legitimate company or utility. If anyone asks you to pay this way, it is a scam.
You’ll be arrested if you don’t pay now. Yes, people can be arrested for tax fraud, but an investigation is a lengthy process and you’ll get plenty of notification to clear up any errors first. Scammers hope you’ll be scared enough to do whatever they say without stopping to think.
Pay us or your social security number will be cancelled. No, your SSN can’t ever be cancelled, blocked, frozen, or suspended. This is just another trick to scare you.
Click this link to (fill in the blank). They’ll say they want you to verify information, take a survey, or see details about your refund. Sounds harmless enough, right? Do not click the link! Doing so may allow scammers to access your personal information, or even lock your system until you pay a ransom. Never click any links that you aren’t expecting.
If you receive any communication from the IRS, the best thing to do is call their main help line at 800-829-1040 or visit www.IRS.gov. Be aware that if you contact them they will need personal information to verify your identity before they give you any information. Remember, if someone contacts you, don’t share personal information… but if you call the IRS yourself you’ll need to prove it’s you, and not an identity thief pretending to be you.
If you are contacted by a suspected scammer, call the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office at 727-582-6200.
Dating apps can be a good way to meet your next true love but there are risks in the modern quest for a relationship. When you meet someone online you never know if they are who they say they are, or what their motivations might be. We know that dating can lead to heartache, but online dating can open you up to both financial scams and physical danger. Here are some tips to keep you safe this Valentine’s Day as you search for your perfect partner.
Limit the information you share. On your profile, just use your first name or a nickname, not your full name. Don’t include details about where you live or work, turn off location settings, and avoid linking your social media to your dating app. Use unique photos on the dating app – don’t use photos that you also have posted on social media. Someone can easily run a reverse image search to find other places where you’ve posted that photo and discover your full name and other details about you. And make sure photos don’t accidentally reveal personal details like your house number.
Find out all you can. Examine the person’s photos, profile, and social media to determine if they seem legitimate. Note any inconsistencies or “red flags.” Be wary of profiles that have only one photo, no bio, or seem too good to be true. Scammers and fake profiles are more likely to say that they are new to the app, just moved to the area, or include a sad story such as that they are a widower with children. Consider a video call before you meet face to face to make sure the person matches their photos.
Enlist your friends. Let a friend or family member know who you are meeting, as well as when and where. Take screenshots of the person’s profile and provide your friends as much information as possible. Arrange to check in after the date and consider having a friend call or text midway through the date in case you need an excuse to leave.
Control the meeting. Arrange to meet in public for a first date, not at your house or theirs – and then stay in public for the entire date. Lunch or coffee dates are ideal. Stay sharp – be careful how much you drink, never leave your drink unattended, and don’t let yourself get too tired. Don’t rely on your date to drive you but arrange for your own transportation. Make sure your phone is fully charged.
Above all, trust your intuition. If someone feels suspicious, dangerous, or just “off” don’t be afraid to block them, report them to the dating app, or leave the date. Don’t fall for sad stories and don’t accept excuses or lies. If someone asks for money, threatens, or harasses you, contact law enforcement.
The New Year is a perfect time for a fresh start. While plenty of people make – and sometimes even keep – resolutions about their health, most people don’t think about making resolutions to improve their safety. Here are a few things you can do in the coming year to keep you and your family safe. Much like drinking more water or exercising daily, once you make these things a habit they will become second nature.
Vehicle Burglary and Theft: It sounds so simple but locking your car door every time you exit your vehicle prevents Pinellas County’s most common crime. A majority of vehicle burglaries and thefts occur to unlocked vehicles. Don’t make your vehicle a target by leaving valuables in plain sight. Take them out of the car when you can or keep them out of sight in the trunk. Never leave a firearm in your vehicle.
Online security: Criminals are always finding new methods to part you from your hard-earned money and one of the most common ways they attack your finances is online. Create strong passwords and don’t use the same password for all accounts. Don’t respond to any text or email that asks you for personal information and never click on a link included in a text or email from someone you don’t know.
Scammers: The best advice I can give you to avoid a scam is to take your time and think before you act. Scammers create a sense of urgency. They may call, email, or text pretending to be from companies like Amazon, eBay, or a utility company and say you owe money or are about to have your power turned off if you don’t send money right away. Scammers often demand payments in cryptocurrency or gift cards – no legitimate company will ever do this. Don’t send money or give personal information. Instead, look up the company’s main website and contact them to find out if you really owe money.
Driving safety: The rules of the road are there for a reason: to keep you and other drivers safe. Don’t think that you’re the exception to the rules. Keep to the speed limit and obey traffic control devices. Always wear your seatbelt and resist the temptation to use your phone. Texting and driving is against the law and distracted driving is a leading cause of accidents.
Personal Safety: It’s easy to be complacent, but in this day and age you should never let your guard down completely. Being alert to potential danger will give you a chance to avoid it. Don’t be a target – walk with confidence, keep your hands free, watch for anyone entering your personal space, and don’t be afraid to get loud if you feel threatened. Criminals don’t want to be noticed so if you shout stop! get back! they might decide you’re not worth the trouble. Pay attention to exits wherever you go and always have an escape plan. Above all, trust your intuition. If a person or situation makes you feel uncomfortable, get away fast.
Keeping these simple things in mind can help you have a safer year. I wish you and your family a happy and safe 2023!
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) entered 2022 in a spirit of optimism. After two challenging years and with the pandemic behind us, we looked forward to being able to safely re-engage the community through our presence at events and resume our full suite of public education programming. While our efforts at community events are significant and our public education opportunities are robust, providing the public with timely and interesting information about the agency and public safety is critical to our success. Our public relations staff do their best to keep the PCSO front and center on social media and through our publications like this one and our biweekly e-newsletter, Inside the Star. Let’s look back at some of the big PCSO stories of 2022.
We started 2022 by debuting our new and improved Chevrolet Tahoe patrol vehicles. The updated Police Pursuit Vehicles or “PPVs” are packed with new features that better support our law enforcement mission and keep our deputies safer. Each Tahoe requires an average of 60 hours of work from our dedicated Fleet technicians.
Three new four-legged deputies hit the streets after completing K-9 School. Following a grueling tryout process, Deputies Zenandrie, Hunter, and Huckabee were selected to join the unit. They paired with their new K-9 partners and embarked on an intense 16-week school – four weeks longer than what’s required by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for certification. K-9s Drogo (Zenandrie), Magz (Hunter), and Khan (Huckabee) showcased their skills at their public graduation and are now on the streets tracking suspects and missing persons.
The PCSO Flight Unit celebrated 50 years in the skies above Pinellas County. Coincidentally, replacing a 31-year-old helicopter with a brand new Airbus H125 became a part of the celebration. The new addition to the fleet arrived over the summer and is more powerful, has more safety equipment, digital avionics, and an autopilot.
Over the summer, the PCSO hosted a multi-jurisdictional active shooter mass casualty exercise. The training was held at Highpoint Elementary School and involved several law enforcement agencies as well as the Pinellas County School Board, local fire departments, Sunstar, 911, and Emergency Management. The intent of the exercise was to comprehensively test the training, policies, and practices of all involved components to make improvements in the event of an actual active shooter situation.
Robert Holzaepfel, the man responsible for the death of Deputy Michael J. Magli, pled guilty and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Holzaepfel, who was under the influence while fleeing from deputies before striking Deputy Magli, was charged with third-degree murder, DUI manslaughter, and felony driving with his license suspended or revoked.
On September 22nd, we lost our second deputy in the line of duty in 19-months: Deputy Michael Hartwick. He was senselessly killed when he was struck by a front loader while working a construction detail on I-275 in St. Petersburg. The man who struck him fled the scene and was caught after a nine-hour manhunt. Deputy Hartwick is remembered as a funny, kind, and dedicated deputy.
Even as we were dealing with the aftermath of Deputy Hartwick’s death we faced the looming threat of Hurricane Ian. When forecasts predicted a direct Pinellas County landfall we ramped up our preparations: coordinating evacuations, manning shelters, closing the barrier islands, and getting ready for rescues. When the storm veered south at the last minute we were able to mobilize boats and deputies to aid the areas that were hardest hit.
Like any year, 2022 had its ups and downs, but we value our opportunities to bring these stories to you. If you’re working on a New Year’s resolution, consider engaging with us on social media and subscribing to Inside the Star by visiting www.pcsoweb.com/insidethestar.
Wishing you and yours a safe and happy holiday season.
For almost three decades the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) has helped make sure that children and families in need have a joyful holiday season. Please join us Saturday, December 3rd at Fort De Soto Park for Ride And Run With The Stars, the biggest law enforcement-organized holiday fundraiser in the Tampa Bay area. Money raised at the event supports the Sheriff’s Christmas Sharing Project. Last year the PCSO helped more than 200 families and 500 children with toys and necessities for the holidays.
Ride And Run With The Stars has races for all ages and fitness levels, including a 5K chipped race, a 1-mile fun walk/skate, a 25-mile bike ride, and a 10K family bike ride. Registration for the races includes a long-sleeve event shirt as well as food, giveaways, and more. Prizes are awarded in the chipped 5K race for the best times in different age groups, with grand prizes being high quality bicycles.
Our K-9 Unit will give a demonstration, and since a sleigh doesn’t travel too well on the sand Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive in a PCSO helicopter, with elves as their ground crew. You can bid on vacations, sports gear, and gift baskets in our silent auction too.
All money raised at Ride And Run With The Stars goes to benefit children and families who are economically disadvantaged or who have been victims of crimes. After the event, deputies and other PCSO members act as Santa’s helpers and shop for the sponsored families. Toys and bikes are the most common things the kids ask for, but we also help families with the necessities on their wish lists such as clothes and shoes.
If you would like to help local families have a happier holiday, consider become a sponsor or donating to our silent auction. If you would like to adopt a family, contact Sandra Garcia-Olivares, PCSO Victim Advocate, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727-582-6465.
Come enjoy holiday family fun for a great cause at this year’s Ride And Run With The Stars. To register or for more information visit www.rideandrunwiththestars.com.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) we are doing everything we can to prevent domestic violence and support victims. Domestic violence can occur between current or former spouses, people related by blood or marriage, or people living together as a family. Our deputies can make an arrest when domestic violence takes the form of assault, battery, stalking, or other illegal actions. In the bigger picture though, domestic violence is a pattern of one partner controlling the other using a variety of methods including physical attacks, sexual violence, intimidation, or manipulation. Know the warning signs of domestic violence to keep yourself and your family safe. A partner may be abusive if they employ any of the following tactics:
Isolating someone from friends and family, restricting where they go and what they do, and showing extreme jealousy.
Using economic abuse such as preventing someone from working, taking or limiting their money, controlling purchases.
Intimidation, such as yelling, breaking things, hurting pets, or displaying weapons.
Threats and coercion, including threats of harm, abandonment, or suicide; threatening to report them to welfare, immigration etc.; making them do illegal things.
Emotional abuse like insulting, belittling, humiliating, gaslighting, or name-calling.
Using children against the victim, such as threatening to take the children away, using visitation to harass the victim, making the victim feel guilty about their children.
Using male privilege to make a female victim feel like a servant, acting like the master of the household, strictly defining male and female roles.
Abusers will often try to minimize or deny the abuse and make their victim believe that it is their fault, that they have done something to deserve the abuse. But no one deserves to be abused for any reason.
If the abuse rises to the level of a crime and a deputy arrests a suspect on a domestic violence charge, Victim Advocates can help a victim navigate the often-complicated legal process from State Attorney Investigations to depositions, hearings, trials, and sentencing. No victim should feel so intimidated by the legal process that they don’t follow through and permanently escape an abusive situation.
If you are in fear because of a domestic violence situation get help, whether from family and friends, a local domestic violence organization, or by calling PCSO Victim Advocates at 727-582-6259. Our local certified domestic violence programs are CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse) and Hope Villages of America. They both offer prevention and education programs as well as confidential emergency shelter services. You can reach the CASA 24-hour domestic violence hotline at 727-895-1269 or the Hope Villages 24-hour domestic violence hotline at 727-442-4128. If you are in need immediate law enforcement assistance don’t hesitate to call 911.
You wouldn’t leave your house unlocked or allow strangers to wander inside. At home, you know all of the exits, the safest places, and hopefully you’ve talked with your family about what to do in an emergency. Yet many spend eight or more hours a day at work, so it is vital to have a safety plan for your place of employment too.
Business Watch helps to establish relationships between businesses and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO). Its primary purpose is to ensure the PCSO has after-hours contacts for business owners if something happens when the business is closed, such as a broken window, burglary, or fire. Business Watch also encourages business owners to take a proactive role in increasing safety. One way they can accomplish this is by contacting the PCSO Crime Prevention and Community Awareness Unit (CPCA). Deputies in that unit can provide security inspections, safety meetings, and presentations, as well as offering emails about crime trends that affect the area.
Businesses are at risk of burglary, theft, forgery/fraud, vandalism, and identity theft, but one of the most troubling trends is the rise in active assailant incidents. According to the FBI, from 2020 to 2021 there was a more than a 50 percent increase in the number of active assailant incidents, and the majority of those occur in places of business. CPCA offers training on how to best prepare for an assailant at work, including forming an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). Sixty-nine percent of active assailant incidents are over in less than five minutes, and no matter how fast the response may be, most have ended before law enforcement arrives. If your business has an EAP in place, it can save lives.
According to the instruction that CPCA offers to businesses, if you hear gunshots or have reason to believe there is an active assailant, the best course of action is to evacuate. Know your exits and plan an evacuation route ahead of time. Leave personal belongings behind and help coworkers escape if possible. If you encounter law enforcement officers as you escape, keep your hands visible, follow their instructions, and quickly give them any information you have about the assailant’s location or appearance.
If evacuation is not possible, the next alternative is to hide. Find a place out of the assailant’s view with cover. Ideally, lock yourself in a room and block the door with whatever is available, turn off the lights, silence cell phones, and stay quiet.
As a last resort to protect your life, be prepared to fight the assailant. Many common items can be used as an improvised weapon to strike or throw at the attacker. Anything that can interfere with the assailant’s aim can also be effective. Discharging a fire extinguisher into an assailant’s face can hamper their sight, and then the extinguisher can be used as a weapon to strike them. If you must fight, it is important to commit and act as aggressively as possible.
Some businesses have unique safety concerns that our CPCA deputies can help you address. They can tailor their advice to specific businesses, walking through the property and advising staff of best practices.
To join Business Watch, fill out the form on our website at https://pcsoweb.com/business-watch. To contact our Crime Prevention and Community Awareness Unit, call 727-582-2222.
Even if you don’t have a child or grandchild in school, please pay attention to back-to-school time. We must do everything we can to keep children safe and you can do your part by following traffic laws about busses, school zones, and pedestrians.
School Bus Safety
You must always stop when you are driving behind a school bus that activates its flashing red lights and displays its STOP signal, no matter how many lanes there are. If you are approaching a stopped school bus from the opposite direction you must stop unless there is a raised median or physical barrier at least five feet wide between lane directions. In that case the vehicle should proceed with caution. Painted lines and pavement markings are not considered barriers.
Failure to stop for a school bus carries a minimum $200 fine. A second offense committed within five years results in that person’s license being suspended for between six months and one year.
If you pass on the side where children are getting on or off the bus the penalties are even more severe: a minimum $400 fine and a one- to two-year suspension for a repeat offense within five years.
Pay special attention to designated school zones as well. School zones will be clearly marked with signage and flashing lights alerting drivers. The speed limit in most local school zones is 15 miles per hour. The slow-speed zone is in force half an hour before students are expected to arrive at school in the morning. Remember, this doesn’t just mean the official start of classes, but may be earlier for breakfast service. The school zone may be active for up to half an hour after class begins. In the afternoon, the school zone is active until 30 minutes after students are released. With elementary, middle, and high schools all starting and ending at different times, you may encounter several different school zones in your daily travels. Be alert for increased traffic and many more buses and pedestrians now that school is back in session. The fine for speeding in a school zone is double that of speeding in most other areas.
It is illegal to use a cell phone in a handheld manner while driving in a school zone. This includes texting and making phone calls. If you must use a device in a school zone, it needs to be completely hands-free. Your full attention needs to be on the road and on pedestrians.
Crossing guards are stationed at high-frequency intersections where children walk or bike to school. Crossing guards enter the crosswalk when it is safe to do so and ensure that children only cross the road when all traffic has stopped. Be alert for the crossing guard’s sign and whistle, and follow their directions.
If you would like a rewarding part-time job helping to keep children safe, consider becoming a school crossing guard. You will receive uniforms, equipment, and training, and make $22 an hour. Contact Human Resources at 727-582-6208 for more information.
Non Emergency Line: (727) 582-6200 | In an Emergency call 911ADA info