This Valentine`s Day, Practice Dating App Safety 

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.

 

Posted by Verliz Williams Wednesday, February 1, 2023 3:56:00 PM

Resolutions for a Safer New Year 

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!

Posted by Verliz Williams Wednesday, January 4, 2023 10:36:00 AM

2022 Year In Review 

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.

 

Posted by Verliz Williams Thursday, December 1, 2022 1:52:00 PM

Ride And Run With The Stars 

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 sgarcia-olivares@pcsonet.com 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.

Posted by Verliz Williams Wednesday, November 2, 2022 11:45:00 AM

National Domestic Violence Awareness Month 

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.

 

 

Posted by Laura Sullivan Thursday, October 6, 2022 8:07:00 AM

Workplace Safety 

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.

 

Posted by Laura Sullivan Thursday, September 1, 2022 4:16:00 PM

Back to School Driving Safety 

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.

School Zones

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.

Cell Phones

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

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.

Posted by Laura Sullivan Thursday, August 11, 2022 9:50:00 AM

Boating Safety: Preventing Crashes, Saving Lives 

Few areas are as welcoming to boaters as Pinellas County. Our home is a boater’s paradise with year-round warm weather and miles of coastline. But there are more chances of boating accidents with so many vessels on the water. In 2020 the US Coast Guard reported 5,265 recreational boating crashes that caused 767 fatalities, 3,191 injuries, and resulted in $62.5-million in property damage. Here in Pinellas County we had 56 boating accidents in 2020. The leading factors that contributed to crashes, both nationally and locally, include operator inattention/improper lookout, inexperience/lack of training, and speed.

Florida doesn’t require any kind of boating license, but to legally operate a vessel of ten horsepower or more, anyone born after January 1, 1988 has to take an approved boating safety education course. Vessel operators must carry proof of that certification or they can be ticketed.

A deputy needs to have witnessed a violation in order to stop a motor vehicle, but a Marine and Environmental Lands Unit deputy can stop any vessel simply for a safety check. Boats are required to have several kinds of safety equipment, including a personal floatation device (PFD) for each passenger, a throwable ring or cushion, an audible signaling device such as a whistle or horn, and a Coast Guard-approved marine fire extinguisher. Each piece of missing equipment could result in a citation, but many deputies prefer to use such stops for educational purposes and only issue warnings.

There must be PFD in the vessel for every adult and child when they are on the water, and every child under six on a vessel less than 26 feet must wear a properly fitting US Coast Guard approved PFD at all times.

A PFD can be hot and bulky, but the right PFD can save your life – if you’re wearing it. Some PFDs are designed to ensure that a person floats face-up even if they are unconscious, which can be vital if you’re boating alone. Wearing a PFD is also the safest choice in rough seas or high wind, or if a person isn’t a good swimmer.

Deputies can also stop paddleboarders and kayakers for safety inspections or violations. Human powered vessels need PFDs and an audible signaling device to be in compliance.

Awareness is a vital part of boating safety. Watch for signs indicating no-wake or minimum-wake zones. These are the marine equivalent of speed limits and can be in place to help prevent collisions, to reduce harm to protected species or ecosystems, or to protect property. The vessel operator should always be looking out for hazards including boats, swimmers, divers, underwater obstructions, or structures.

You should also be alert to the weather. Check out the forecast including storm potential, wind speeds, and tides, before you get underway. Be aware that in our area storms can form quickly and conditions can swiftly deteriorate.

The PCSO Marine and Environmental Lands Unit is here to help you stay safe on the water.

Posted by Laura Sullivan Wednesday, July 6, 2022 9:43:00 AM

Hurricane Season 2022: Prepare Now to Stay Safe 

The latest forecast for the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season calls for above average tropical activity. Colorado State University predicts 19 named storms, 9 hurricanes, and 4 major hurricanes. Worse, they indicate a 47 percent chance that a major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) will hit the Florida peninsula this year. Improve your odds of weathering a storm by preparing now.

Pinellas County Emergency Management (www.pinellascounty.org/emergency) is your best local resource for hurricane preparedness. They publish an annual Hurricane Preparedness Guide that has updated evacuation zones as well as tips for what to do before, during, and after a hurricane strikes.

First, know your evacuation level. If you are in ANY of the evacuation zones, have a plan for where to go whether it’s a shelter, a friend or relative’s house in a non-evacuation zone, or out of the area of impact entirely. When the order to evacuate comes, do not delay.

Follow the guidelines in the Hurricane Preparedness Guide to secure your home, vehicles, or business. If you’re staying in your home, make sure you have two weeks of supplies including food, water, sanitary supplies, medicines, a first aid kid, and batteries. Sunscreen, insect repellent, ropes, tarps, garbage bags, and tools can also be useful – particularly in the aftermath of the storm. Don’t rely on candles, as they can cause house fires and take proper precautions while using generators.

Remember that during the most intense periods of a hurricane, law enforcement, fire personnel, and EMS will not be able to respond to calls for service because it is simply too dangerous for emergency vehicles to be on the roads. This makes it all the more important that you plan for the safety of you and your family. Don’t take unnecessary risks – many dangers exist both during and after a hurricane.

911 will continue to take calls throughout a storm, and operators can guide citizens through many emergencies. After conditions improve, emergency personnel can be dispatched.

All of Pinellas County’s barrier islands are mandatory evacuation zones when a hurricane strikes. Abandoned houses and businesses could be easy prey for looters and burglars. To prevent that, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has implemented Emergency Access Permits.

During and immediately after the storm, the bridges to the barrier islands will be closed until the area is safe. When the storm has passed and the evacuation order is lifted, only residents and business owners who have been issued a re-entry pass will be allowed to return to the islands. Deputies stationed at the nine re-entry points will scan the barcode and let the resident pass. Anyone without an access pass will be refused entry.

Citizens should apply for their permits now, and not wait until a storm is approaching. A maximum of two permits may be issued for each residential address. Owners of boat slips are also eligible for a permit. Residents may apply online at www.pcsoweb.com/emergency-access-permit or register in person with their local city government. Commercial property owners must apply in person.

With planning, preparation, and a cooperative partnership among citizens, Emergency Management, and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, we can keep Pinellas safe this hurricane season.

Posted by Verliz Williams Wednesday, June 1, 2022 8:00:00 AM

The Mental Health Unit Helps Citizens in Crisis 

Having a mental illness is not a crime. Unfortunately, many people with mental illnesses wind up in jail because they may not always be able to control their actions or perceive reality. Or, they may be committed under the Baker Act, a law which allows a person to be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility if they present a danger to themselves or others. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) Mental Health Unit (MHU) was created to reduce both Baker Acts and contact with law enforcement officers among the mentally ill.

The MHU pairs a specially trained deputy with a civilian Crisis Response Specialist to meet with citizens in mental health crisis that may warrant intervention. If a patrol deputy realizes that a citizen has a mental health issue and may be in need of services, they can contact the MHU. Or a team from the MHU may respond directly to a call about a person in crisis.

Once they make contact, the deputy will make sure the scene is secure. Then the Crisis Response Specialist will engage the subject, evaluating their mental state and determining their willingness to receive help. All of the services are voluntary.

MHU members will tell them about available services, especially the Pinellas Integrated Care (PIC). PIC can connect citizens to counseling, medication, substance abuse treatment, job services, housing, and insurance options. Navigating the world of mental health services can be difficult, for both patients and their families. The MHU tries to make a scary, chaotic situation as easy to manage as possible, removing the barriers to positive mental health management.

After the initial contact, PIC will usually follow up in three days. The MHU then meets with the PIC team once a week to discuss the clients they serve.

The MHU was expanded last year. Today there are six deputies and two Clearwater Police officers who pair with eight civilian Crisis Response Specialists. The program has been so successful that the MHU recently won the PCSO Unit Award for its excellent work.

It can be challenging, and sometimes disappointing. Clients who are enthusiastic in the beginning may stop using the services designed to help them. Many also have substance abuse issues that complicate their mental health care. But the many success stories make it worthwhile. Thanks to the MHU, more citizens with mental health issues are staying out of jail and receiving the services they need.

For more information about mental health education and support, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness at www.nami.org. If you know a child or young adult experiencing a mental health crisis, you can contact the Pinellas Mobile Crisis Response Team at 727-362-4424. For an emergency situation, as always, call 911.

Posted by Laura Sullivan Friday, May 20, 2022 10:58:00 AM
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