Mental Illness Awareness and Suicide Prevention 

In Pinellas County, there are thousands of individuals who suffer from a mental health condition. Many of them have never been diagnosed, received treatment, or are even aware there is a problem. Nevertheless, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is focused on ensuring the safety of these men and women and the individuals around them, as well as reducing stigmas and educating the public about the resources available to help them.
 
Last year, 40 percent of the homeless men and women who stayed in Pinellas Safe Harbor (Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office operated homeless facility) admitted to suffering from a mental illness. In addition, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office responded to 1,246 calls about a suicidal person, and 3,054 calls directly related to an emotionally disturbed person. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates have increased in every U.S. state except Nevada, and more than half of the people who die by suicide are not aware they have a mental health condition. 
 
It is important to know that there are steps you can take to recognize the warning signs for suicide and how to help a person who may be thinking about taking his or her own life. First, get involved; second, be prepared for an emergency by knowing who to call, keeping a first aid kit readily available, and knowing CPR; and third, know about the professional resources available for support and treatment. 
 
If you, or someone you know, exhibits any of the following warning signals, take the possibility of suicide seriously. 
 
Warning Signs:
 
Talking about suicide and death
Sleeping and eating disturbances
Drastic changes in behavior
Social withdraw and isolation
Self-mutilation
Drug or alcohol abuse
Difficulties at work or school
 
Most importantly, be open and sensitive to the person who is suffering from a mental health issue. Talking to people about the problem is a key step to working through the crisis. Counseling, medication, and diet and exercise are all crucial to preventing a suicide attempt or episode resulting from a mental illness. 
 
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, you can get help immediately by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. If you or anyone you know is in imminent danger, call 9-1-1. 
 
You can also receive mental health care through Personal Enrichment Through Mental Health Services (PEMHS), which offers emergency screening and crisis intervention, inpatient services for adults and children, and a 24-hour mental health assistance hotline at 727-541-4628. Additionally, Tampa Bay Cares is a local organization that helps individuals find and connect to resources in times of crisis. You can call their hotline at 2-1-1.
 
Remember, mental health and suicide are issues that require your engagement. We are leading the way to a safer Pinellas, and that starts with community awareness and prevention. 
Posted by Michelle De Carion Thursday, March 7, 2019 11:08:00 AM

Just Drive, The Rest Can Wait 

Every time you get behind the wheel, you face many distractions. Speeding drivers and wayward pedestrians make it crucial to keep your eyes on the road at all times. Then, when you add the distractions from the inside of your car, you make your commute even more dangerous. 
 
Too often, individuals try to multitask while operating their vehicles. The top offenders are texting, eating, changing the radio station, applying makeup, and tending to pets and children while driving.  
 
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving resulted in 3,450 deaths in 2016. The Florida Highway Patrol also reported distracted drivers have increased 25 percent since 2013, and about one-tenth of fatal crashes in 2017 involved distractions. 
 
Drivers can be distracted in three main ways: taking their eyes off the road, taking their hands off the wheel, or taking their minds off what they are doing. Florida Highway Patrol officers even report that many accidents are caused simply by daydreaming. In addition, numerous cell phone users find themselves checking their phones even when they don’t notice the phone ringing or vibrating. Distractions can be physical or mental, and combining the two types increases your chances of getting into an accident. 
 
This month, we are asking Pinellas County citizens to consider how they may be creating an unsafe environment on the road due to distractions. Florida law enforcement agencies are partnering together in April for Distracted Driving Awareness Month to promote safe habits behind the wheel. 
 
The NHTSA says that teens were actually the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes. In order to teach our youth safe driving and to lead the way for a safer Pinellas, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office organizes the Targeted Response Against Distracted Driving (TRADD) program in partnership with the State Farm Youth Advisory Board every year. Our deputies lead presentations in Pinellas County schools to demonstrate the dangers of using a cell phone, eating, and many other tasks while operating a vehicle. 
 
Some tips for preventing distractions on the road are:
 
1. Place your cell phone out of sight so that you are not tempted to text or have phone conversations while driving.
2. If you have passengers in the car, ask for their help so you can focus on driving—such as changing the radio station or adjusting the navigation system.
3. Properly restrain your pets or children in the car prior to starting the vehicle so they don’t move freely in the car during your trip. 
4. If you ever feel tired, sick, or distracted, pull over and take a break until you are mentally and physically ready to operate your vehicle again.
 
Remember to think twice before letting anything come between you and reaching your destination safely. Just drive, the rest can wait. 
Posted by Michelle De Carion Thursday, March 7, 2019 11:04:00 AM

Foresight, Planning, and Love this Valentine`s Day 

Words of love can change a life, but actions speak louder than words. Come February, many people focus their attention on exchanging valentines that share how much they love each other. But do you consider how you are showing love to others by your everyday lifestyle?

The home can be the most challenging place to display love. At the sheriff’s office, we sadly get many reports of domestic violence and child abuse. Even though parents try their hardest to keep their kids safe, turbulent marriages, stressful environments, and other dire circumstances can interfere with the level of care given to them.

In 2018, the most investigated child deaths in Pinellas County were caused by accidental drowning, followed by positional asphyxia, medical-related deaths, suicide, and murder.

Creating a safe space in your home for a child—both physically, mentally, and emotionally—takes foresight, planning, and love. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in five people who die from drowning are children 14-years-old and younger. Some tips to prevent unintentional drowning are:

  • Always closely supervise children in or around water.
  • Teach your children to swim.
  • Learn CPR.
  • Install a locked fence around the pool or body of water by your property.

In addition, monitoring your child’s activity on social media and any communication with friends and family members will help address bullying and the mental or emotional trauma caused by abuse. Child suicides have been on the rise between 2008 and 2016, the CDC reported, some of which were followed by episodes of bullying.

At the sheriff’s office, we provide educational events for the community to help parents navigate the often confusing and stressful technological climate children live in. These opportunities require your time and motivation.

Lastly, abusive head trauma too often follows episodes of anger and frustration. If you find yourself in a dangerous emotional state that could cause harm to your child, take a break and call a trusted friend or family member to help you. Remember that you are never alone and there is always someone who can help you navigate the pressures and anxieties of raising a child.

If you have reason to believe that a child you know is being abused, neglected, or abandoned, call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873. If you suspect or know of a child in immediate danger, call 911.

This Valentine’s Day, tell your children that you love them, but also show them that love by being intimately involved in their lives and taking the necessary precautions for their safety and wellbeing.  

Posted by Joanna Cheshire Friday, February 1, 2019 4:33:00 PM

What`s Your Safety Resolution? 

What is your New Year’s resolution for 2019? Some people focus on losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle while others may want to go back to school or simply get their homes more organized. Whatever you desire to do this year, we encourage Pinellas County citizens to add staying safe to their list of resolutions.

At the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, our priority is keeping everyone safe. As much as law enforcement officers work hard to protect the county, it is also every person’s responsibility to take precautionary measures to ensure his or her own safety.

So that’s why we invite you to adopt these safety resolutions for a safe 2019:

1. Stay aware of relevant, up-to-date information by using the Nextdoor app. Last year, the sheriff’s office joined Nextdoor—a mobile platform that helps you get to know your neighbors, community, and local law enforcement. After signing up, you are assigned to your neighborhood and can see local alerts about recent crime, as well as community concerns—like if someone’s dog is lost or there is a strange person knocking on doors late at night. Joining this online community will not only help you form relationships with neighbors so you can rely on each other in case of emergencies, but also quickly respond to local threats. Nextdoor is free, so there’s no cost to being actively involved in your community.

2. Establish the 9 p.m. routine. For the past few years, law enforcement agencies around the country have joined the social media movement #9PMRoutine to encourage people to lock their homes and car doors before bed every night. Simply by making sure every door on your property is locked up by 9 p.m., burglaries can easily be prevented. Not only are you protecting your valuables, but you are also playing an important role in your community to prevent crime.    

3. Sign up for the Pinellas County Crime Viewer to learn about crimes and emergencies in your area. If you have ever wondered what crimes are happening in your neighborhood, you can use the Crime Viewer website to see all kinds of activity on a map, including burglaries, traffic accidents, and domestic violence reports. All you need to do is go to the website at www.pinellascounty.org/crimeviewer, then type in your address and email and you will receive police reports directly to your inbox listing any crime going on around you. By staying informed, you can help protect yourself and family and friends from relevant threats near your home.

This year, make a New Year’s resolution that will protect you, your belongings, and your community. On behalf of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Happy New Year!

 

Posted by Joanna Cheshire Tuesday, January 1, 2019 4:33:00 PM

PCSO Comes to Heritage Village 

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has a rich history filled with heroism, hardship, and even humor. For years, we have housed pieces of our heritage in the lobby of the Sheriff’s Administration Building. Now, we have a second location to display more of these items at the Lowe House in Heritage Village in Largo.

A living history museum just down the road from our administration building is the perfect place to showcase important artifacts and information about former sheriffs and milestones in law enforcement.

The Lowe House, where the exhibit is located, was built in 1888 and gives visitors a glimpse into what life looked like for the early settlers of Pinellas County. Wesley Lowe and his wife, kids, and father lived in this house in Anona under Pinellas County’s first sheriff, Marvel Whitehurst, until the 1930s. The McMullen brothers’ homes are also in Heritage Village; they were prominent figures throughout Pinellas County’s law enforcement history. We feel privileged to honor those who have served the agency in this historic setting.

The Portraits of a Sheriff gallery begins in 1912 with, “The Formative Years,” of the sheriff’s office when the first courthouse and jail was built. The original county patrol officers focused on guarding the citrus groves from thieves and investigating moonshine stills.

Visitors then enter into the next era of law enforcement by walking through old cell doors from our second jail—which housed inmates from 1918 to 1950. This room that focuses on Pinellas County Sheriff’s from 1953 to 1972 is called “A Changing Force,” and displays a uniform from our patrol officers in the 1960s, a helmet that officers had to wear to protect them from rioters, and one of our first computers.

The community of Pinellas County witnessed major milestones during this time period, including the first female deputy, the first African-American deputy, and our first K-9—a bloodhound named Spotlight.

The next 30 years shaped the modernization of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. After 1972, the organization expanded services by adding the flight, marine, and K-9 units. In addition to displaying photos of some of our greatest accomplishments, like the narcotics seizure of the 1980s when officers found cocaine inside cedar planks, we also have more lighthearted photos involving community engagement. After Star Wars came out in 1977, the sheriff’s office used Darth Vader in schools to encourage kids to stay safe and prevent crime.

Our hope is that the families of Pinellas County will be enlightened and inspired by this unique telling of our sheriffs’ history. There is something for everyone to learn—even the kids can stay engaged by playing an interactive detective game.

The doors of the Lowe House are open, and we invite the citizens of Pinellas County to take a journey through the history of our sheriffs and their staff who have had, and continue to have, a large impact on people’s lives.

Heritage Village is free to the public and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

 

Posted by Joanna Cheshire Saturday, December 1, 2018 4:31:00 PM

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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