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!
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:
Last but not least: Don’t eat too much candy – you’ll thank us later!
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 email@example.com or 727-588-6300.
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 your kids
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.
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:
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/
As of June 1st, Hurricane Season has blown back into town as quickly as it left last November.
Floridians know as well as anyone how unpredictable hurricanes can be and how abruptly their paths can shift. If there is one thing Hurricane Irma taught us, it is to be prepared.
First and foremost, you must know in what evacuation zone you reside. Evacuation zones are based on several factors, including ground elevation and vulnerability to storm surge.
During a potential disaster, emergency management and public safety officials are in constant communication with each other and other agencies, like the National Weather Service, to ensure we are as educated as possible before making decisions about what areas should evacuate and when. But if citizens don’t know that they are required to leave, they won’t.
Learn your evacuation zone by typing your address into the map at www.pinellascounty.org/knowyourzone or by calling the Pinellas County Interactive Hurricane Evacuation Inquiry Line, 727-453-3150, and entering the landline associated with the location in question.
If you live in a barrier island community, make sure you are registered for and know where you’ve placed your emergency access permit. When a mandatory evacuation order is lifted, law enforcement officials will scan emergency access permits at designated re-entry points.
Barrier island residents may register directly with their city government during its general office hours year round, so don’t wait until an evacuation order has been issued to secure yours.
If you registered for and still possess your emergency access permit from years prior, you DO NOT need to register again. If you don’t know if you need a permit, visit www.pcsoweb.com/emergency-access-permit or call the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency line at 727-582-6200.
Just as you should have an escape plan in case of a fire, it is important you plan ahead for what you should do in case of a hurricane. Again, don’t wait until the last minute.
If you plan to stay at your residence, create a hurricane survival kit with plenty of bottled water, canned or dry foods that won’t go bad, a battery-powered radio, candles, basic first-aid items, vital medications, etc. Visit www.pinellascounty.org for a list of suggested hurricane survival kit items.
If you plan to evacuate, we highly recommend staying with friends or relatives or in a hotel if possible. However, if you have no alternate accommodations, Pinellas County has 34 potential emergency shelters. A few of these shelters are specifically designated for citizens with special needs but are limited to basic medical monitoring and back-up electricity for lighting. If you know that you and your family would need transport assistance to any Pinellas County shelter, register ahead of time to ensure you receive it. Register online at www.pinellascounty.org/specialneeds.
For a full list of shelters, visit Pinellas County Government’s website. Keep in mind that not all shelters will open for every evacuation, so check www.pinellascounty.org/emergency or call the Citizen Information Center at 727-464-4333 to learn which are open.
Finally, stay connected. Leading up to a potential hurricane or other emergency, it is our top priority to keep citizens informed so that we can all get through it together and as efficiently as possible. Follow the Sheriff’s Office and Pinellas County Government on Facebook and Twitter and look for “#GetReadyPinellas” for posts including preparation tips, situation-specific details, evacuation orders, etc. Also, download the free “Ready Pinellas” app in the App Store or Google Play to receive updates as they are issued.
Keeping citizens safe is EVERYONE’s responsibility. We might not know when and where the next disaster will strike, but with proper preparation and open communication, we can be ready for it.
It only takes a spark to ignite a flame.
Each year, law enforcement officers throughout Pinellas County hope to be that spark, lighting the flame atop the ceremonial torch that they use to shine a light of awareness on a community often cast in the shadows.
For more than 25 years, Pinellas County has hosted the Law Enforcement Torch Run to raise awareness for the Special Olympics and to bring attention to the many sports programs available for the intellectually disabled.
The Torch Run was created in 1982 in Wichita, Kansas, to keep law enforcement active in the community and support Special Olympics Kansas. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) first endorsed the Torch Run in 1983. Today, it is the largest public awareness and fundraising group for the Special Olympics, with more than 97,000 law enforcement members nationwide participating annually.
Throughout March, April, and May, Florida law enforcement agencies will host 70 Torch Run events, including runs in Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee, and of course, Pinellas counties.
Before the sun rises Wednesday, April 25th, sworn personnel, staff, and community supporters accompanied by Special Olympics athletes will gather at the St. Petersburg Police Department to light the torch, which they will pass from agency to agency in six relay race legs spanning Pinellas County.
This year’s participating agencies include the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Highway Patrol, and police departments from Belleair, Clearwater, Kenneth City, Largo, Pinellas Park, and Tarpon Springs.
Participants run and bike a combined total of more than 20 miles, stopping at various law enforcement buildings, public parks, and special needs schools, where they are greeted by booming music, rejuvenating snacks, and crowds of supporters holding motivational signs and banners.
In addition to the community awareness and sense of law enforcement unity and support, the Torch Run raises money through merchandise sales. Last year, the Pinellas County event raised almost $10,000, which benefited Pinellas County Special Olympics athletes participating in the annual state summer games.
This year, you can purchase sizes small-3XL performance shirts for $20, cotton t-shirts for $15, and one-size-fits-all baseball caps for $10.
Before the final stop at Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Education Center, the very people for whom participants are racing will meet them down the road to join them in the last few steps before they cross the finish line, hand in hand.
For more information or to purchase Torch Run apparel, contact the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Public Relations Bureau at 727-582-6221.
2. Whether you're at the beach, on the boat, or in the backyard, your Spring Break plans likely include outdoor activity, so don't forget the sunscreen! The Centers for Disease Control recommends using broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15, even if it's slightly cloudy. Make sure to apply it 15-30 minutes before you head outdoors to allow your skin sufficient time to absorb it.
3. If you’re hitting the road, secure your home. Lock your doors and windows, and put valuables in a safe place. Tell a friend or neighbor that you will be out of town, and ask him/her to pick up your mail and newspapers, because a packed mailbox or a stack of newspapers at your front door signals would-be burglars that you are not there. If you would like someone to check on your home while you are away, contact your local law enforcement agency. If you live in the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office’s jurisdiction, call us at 727-582-6200, and a deputy or Volunteer Patrol member will be glad to conduct a vacation home check.
4. Whether you are taking a long trip out of town or driving the pedestrian-packed beach streets, be extra vigilant behind the wheel. Drive defensively. Make sure everyone is properly buckled up and using the appropriate child safety restraints. Allot extra time to get where you’re going to prevent rushing and making careless, dangerous mistakes. Conversely, if you are the pedestrian, be on the lookout for distracted drivers, use crosswalks, and always be aware of your surroundings.
5. If you are at least 21 years old and choose to drink alcohol, do so responsibly. Be mindful of area laws and ordinances related to the possession of open containers in public, and never accept a drink from a stranger. Know your limits, and remember that time in the sun maximizes the effects of alcohol. Of course, NEVER drink and drive. Instead, designate a sober friend or use taxi services and ride-share apps.
This month, we celebrate Valentine's Day, and love is in the air.
Most would agree that love is a beautiful gift, but it isn't always easy.
Love can be difficult.
Love can be stressful.
Love can be heartbreaking.
But love is NEVER destructive.
In 2016, Florida law enforcement agencies received 105,668 domestic violence reports, according to the Florida Coalition against Domestic Violence. State of Florida data shows that there were 6,829 reported domestic violence offenses in Pinellas County alone, averaging 18.7 domestic violence offenses a day.
Sadly, these reports likely reflect only a fraction of the number of domestic violence instances that actually took place. Many domestic violence victims do not report their abusers due to shame, fear, or abuser interference.
In 2016, about 19% of reported domestic violence offenses in Florida were between spouses, and another 29% were between co-habitants, according to a Florida Statistical Analysis Center's uniform crime report.
These previously formed, seemingly positive relationships between victims and abusers make it easy for victims to justify the abuse as an accident or a one-time occurrence and to accept pledges that "it will never happen again" and promises of love.
But remember: Love is NEVER destructive.
This is not to say that intimate relationships - be they spousal, parental, sibling, child, etc. - will not experience their ups and downs. However, it is important to know the difference between healthy occasional discord and the physical and emotional volatility that characterize abuse.
Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors, such as intimidation, physical violence, emotional degradation, or economic manipulation, to establish power and control over an intimate partner. Its effects on victims extend beyond the obvious physical bruising and emotional scarring.
In the United States alone, intimate partner violence costs exceed $8.3 billion per year, including $5.8 billion in direct health care expenses and $2.5 billion in lost productivity, according to Forbes. This likely relates to that fact that among homeless mothers with children, more than 80% had previously experienced domestic violence, and between 22-57% of all homeless women reported that domestic violence was a leading cause of their homelessness, according to a Family and Youth Services Bureau report. Medically, women who have been physically abused are 80% more likely to experience a stroke and 70% more likely to have heart disease, according to a Centers for Disease Control report.
While the list of domestic violence's negative effects goes on, any abusive relationship you know about does not need to.
Pinellas County offers various free and confidential services for domestic violence victims, including victim advocate services, like those provided by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, a statewide domestic violence hotline (800-500-1119), and two local domestic violence shelters: Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA) and The Haven of RCS.
CASA services southern Pinellas County, offering a 133-bed emergency shelter, support groups, and courtroom advocacy as well as operating the area's 24-hour hotline: 727-895-4912.
The Haven provides similar services for northern Pinellas County, including its own 24-hour hotline: 727-442-4128.
CASA and The Haven are both 501(C)3 charitable organizations that are always in need of donations and volunteers. Visit their websites for more information on how you can help.
As always, if you or someone you know is ever in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
Spend this Valentine's Day celebrating the love in your life, eradicating unhealthy relationships, and learning to recognize the difference between the two.
Non Emergency Line: (727) 582-6200 | In an Emergency call 911