Shopping Safety 

December is upon us and Christmas will be here before we know it.  If you’ve made your list, but haven’t checked it twice, time is running out to get your shopping done.  The number of people shopping online was already increasing exponentially each year before the pandemic, but now it has become even more commonplace.

Most online retailers have more products to choose from and having access to their inventory that can be shipped directly to you or your loved ones helps alleviate an already stressful time. However, there are some online retailers that have no products to offer because their intent is to steal your money – and that can cause a great deal of stress.  The rise of online shopping has made it easier than ever for scammers to steal your money, but if you follow these simple tips, online shopping can be the safest and most convenient way to shop:  

Verify you’re visiting a legitimate website: Reputable companies offer several layers of protection on their website which creates a safe shopping experience. You can verify the legitimacy of a site by ensuring that the company’s name is correctly spelled in the website address and looking for a lock icon in the web address bar. Use caution when clicking on links to websites sent to you via e-mail.

Be careful with your personal information: Scammers may try to contact you and ask for your personal information. They may say that they are trying to “verify” an account or looking to “correct an order,” but don’t buy it.

Use a single payment method: Watching your bank statements for fraudulent activity can be a difficult task, especially with the large amount of purchases during the holidays. Using a single source of payment, preferably one credit card for all purchases, can simplify that process and help safeguard your personal finances.

Criminals are always looking for an easy target and by taking some precautions you can ensure that you aren’t one of them. Remember if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

On behalf of all 2,800 members of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, I wish you a safe and happy holiday season.

Posted by Verliz Williams Monday, January 3, 2022 1:29:00 PM

Crime Stoppers: Solving Crime, One Tip At A Time 

When DNA evidence is contaminated or additional evidence is limited, how do detectives solve the case? It was a question that Detective Greg MacAleese from the Albuquerque Police Department had in the summer of 1976 when he was assigned the case of Michael Carmen, a local college student who was robbed and shot to death while working at a gas station.

Months after the murder of Carmen, MacAleese and his colleagues still had no leads. With limited evidence, MacAleese grew frustrated. He knew that someone had information that would lead to an arrest, but he needed to figure out how he could get that information.

In the hopes that it would establish a lead, MacAleese produced a video re-enactment of the homicide and had the clip air on a local television station. In the re-enactment, he also guaranteed anonymity and a cash reward to anyone who could provide information leading to an arrest. Following the airing of the video, MacAleese received a tip that led to the arrest of two suspects within 72 hours. Both suspects were charged with the murder of Michael Carmen and a string of armed robberies.

Due to MacAleese’s determination to solve Carmen’s murder and his innovative thinking, Crime Stoppers was established on September 8th, 1976. The program was built on the partnership between local law enforcement agencies, the public, and the media, to help solve cases. Crime Stoppers also gave members of the public an opportunity to submit tips anonymously and be rewarded if their tip led to an arrest.

Today, Crime Stoppers is an international program with coordinators all over the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, Australia, and the South/Western Pacific. Crime Stoppers of Pinellas County was formed in January of 2001. Currently, Jamie Smith, serves as the Crime Stoppers Coordinator for Pinellas County and she is assigned within the Public Relations Bureau of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

“The fact that the community can submit tips, remain anonymous, and be rewarded if the tip leads to an arrest is pretty significant in helping law enforcement with their investigations,” Smith said.

More than 40 years later, Crime Stoppers continues to rely on the cooperation of local law enforcement agencies, the community, and the media to provide information to help solve cases. Last year, about 60 tips helped lead to an arrest throughout the county. Although Smith works out of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, she vets tips for local law enforcement agencies countywide.

Every day, in addition to reviewing tips, Smith also works on determining if submitted tips led to an arrest or were determined to be unfounded. Tips that lead to an arrest are eligible for a monetary reward. The amount is calculated by a software program based on several variables including the type of crime, number of charges, and the suspect’s overall risk to the community. Before the reward is given to the tipster, however, it is approved by the Crime Stoppers of Pinellas County Board of Directors, which is made up of members of the community including Smith.

Once approved, the tipster is able to claim their reward at a local bank by providing their unique tip number and password given to them at the initial submission of the tip.

While Smith reviews hundreds of tips each year, one she received in February of last year stands out. The St. Petersburg Police Department had published a news release asking for the community’s help in identifying a suspect in a double homicide. Soon after, Crime Stoppers received a tip that detailed the clothes that the suspect had on. After forwarding the tip to St. Petersburg detectives, they managed to find the suspect’s clothes in a dumpster just 30 minutes before Waste Management was scheduled to empty the dumpster. Without the tip and a quick response from detectives, one of the most compelling pieces of evidence would have been destroyed and the case may have gone cold.

“Knowing that a bad guy is taken off the street based on an anonymous tip is the most rewarding part of my job,” Smith said. “Another, is being able to be a small piece of the puzzle in one of the most important parts of an investigation, which is gathering tips and potential leads.” To date, tips through Crime Stoppers of Pinellas County have led to over 1,100 arrests and more than $300,000 in rewards.

If you have information pertaining to a crime, you can contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS or submit a tip online by visiting http://www.crimestoppersofpinellas.org/.

If you don’t have a tip to submit, but are interested in being a part of the Board of Directors you can call Crime Stoppers of Pinellas County at 727-582-5806. 

Posted by Verliz Williams Monday, January 3, 2022 1:29:00 PM

The Move Over Law 

First responders regularly put themselves in harm’s way to serve others. Law enforcement officers, firefighters, and paramedics respond to vehicle crashes and other incidents to render aid. Their frequent presence on the side of a busy roadway is one of the most dangerous parts of their jobs.

According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, last year alone there were 159 crashes as a result of a driver failing to move over. Fortunately, none of those crashes resulted in a fatality, but four victims suffered incapacitating injuries.

While the dangers of working along busy roadways have always been present, the Mover Over Law has not. Enacted in 2002, it requires that drivers move over as soon as it is safe to do so for any authorized law enforcement, emergency, or service vehicles displaying any visible signals while stopped on the roadside. This includes road rangers, public utility vehicles, and tow trucks. Although there is some version of the law in all 50 states, many motorists are still unaware of it. In 2020, more than 12,000 violators were issued citations for failing to move over in the State of Florida.

Take some time to familiarize yourself with the requirements of the law to make sure that you are not putting first responders and other service providers in danger:

  • On multi-lane roadways, vacate the lane closest to the stopped authorized vehicle. If you cannot safely move over, slow down to 20 miles per hour below the posted speed limit.
  • On two-lane roadways, slow down to a speed of 20 miles per hour below the posted speed limit. If the speed limit is 20 miles per hour, travel at 5 miles per hour.
  • Always be cognizant of other vehicles that may be attempting to move over or slow down.

Staying alert behind the wheel and following a few simple rules could prevent serious injury and save lives. 

Posted by Verliz Williams Monday, January 3, 2022 1:23:00 PM

Senior Care 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in every nine people aged 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease, and one in every three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Alzheimer’s and dementia are not only crippling conditions, but they also increase the chances of an elderly person going missing or getting into an accident. Caring for a loved one who suffers from memory loss or confusion can be a challenging task, but the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has several tips to help ensure seniors stay safe.

  1. Stay Informed

Keeping up-to-date information about seniors in your care is important and can help protect them when a crisis occurs. Whether your aging parent or friend has dementia, hearing loss, or other ailments, it’s crucial to identify the risks involved with their physical or psychological illnesses. Take them to routine doctor visits to ensure accurate diagnoses so that they can receive the care they need.

  1. Actively Prevent Accidents

It is terrifying to realize a loved one has gone missing. If you are concerned the senior in your care could potentially leave home without your knowledge, sign them up for SafetyNET. The program provides a personalized wristband that emits a tracking signal to help locate them. Recovery times for program participants average 30 minutes.

The Take Me Home program is another option if they are unable to effectively communicate with others. By providing the sheriff’s office with a recent photo, description of their physical characteristics, and emergency contact information, law enforcement can identify them and bring them back home safely. The Take Me Home program is free, and all of the recorded information about your loved one is confidential.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office uses these programs within their service area. SafetyNET tracking is also offered by the Clearwater and Largo Police Departments. You can purchase or lease SafetyNET Tracking Systems online at www.safetynettracking.com or by calling (877) 434-6384. To enroll in the Take Me Home program, contact the Crime Prevention and Community Awareness Unit by calling (727) 582-2222.

  1. Ask for Help

Taking on the responsibility of being a full-time caregiver can be a daunting task. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from friends or family members or enroll your senior in an adult day program. Do everything you can to ensure your loved one is in capable hands.  

 

 

Posted by Michelle Whiting Friday, October 1, 2021 1:18:00 PM

Drowsy Driving  

On September 5, 2008, 8 year old Ronshay Dugans was on the way to an afterschool program when the driver of a cement truck fell asleep behind the wheel and crashed into the back of her school bus. Ronshay was killed in the crash. Two years later, the Florida Legislature passed the Ronshay Dugans Act that designated the first week of September as “Drowsy Driving Prevention Week.”

A survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, found that at least 50% of adults have admittedly driven while drowsy, and 20% have fallen asleep at the wheel. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there are about 100,000 reported crashes involving drowsy driving; however, the number is likely significantly higher since it is difficult to determine whether a driver was drowsy at the time of a crash.

Like drunk driving, drowsy driving kills. Prescription medications, lack of sleep, work, undiagnosed disorders like sleep apnea, and jet-lag can cause drowsiness. Drowsiness impacts your reaction time, decreases awareness of your surroundings, and impairs your judgement.

Before hitting the road, make sure you get enough sleep (seven to nine hours for adults, eight to ten for teenagers) and confirm that any medications you take don’t cause drowsiness. For longer trips, schedule stops every 100 miles or every two hours and ask a friend to tag along to help you stay awake and focused.

Once you’re behind the wheel, monitoring yourself for warning signs of drowsiness is crucial. Some common warning signs are frequent blinking, difficulty focusing on the road, having trouble remembering the last few miles driven, drifting from your lane, and the feeling of restlessness or disconnected thoughts. If you notice yourself experiencing any of these pull over to a safe place to get some rest, stretch, or get a caffeinated beverage. Once you feel alert and refreshed it’s safe to continue driving.

Crashes caused by drowsiness are 100% preventable. The rush to get to where you’re going is not worth risking your safety and the safety of others. Taking the time to check your alertness could save you from a potentially life changing accident.

Posted by Verliz Williams Wednesday, September 1, 2021 8:35:00 AM

Pedestrian Safety 

So far this year, we’ve responded to 33 pedestrian related crashes. Pedestrians and drivers are equally responsible in preventing accidents. With school resuming and traffic expected to increase again, practicing these tips in your community will help keep you and others safe.

For pedestrians:

  • Be predictable: Following the rules of the road and obeying signs and signals will help drivers identify when you’re going to move and where you’ll be going.
  • Be alert: Limit your use of electronic devices to help minimize the amount of distractions that could take your eyes off your surroundings.
  • Be visible: Whether you’re walking during the day or night make sure you are visible to drivers. Be sure to make eye contact as you cross and wear clothing that would increase your visibility.
  • Cross with caution: Be sure to utilize crosswalks and cross at intersections where drivers would expect pedestrians. If there’s no crosswalk available, locate an area that’s well-lit and cross only when there is enough time to cross safely. Look for cars in all directions, including turn lanes.

For drivers:

  • Be aware: Watch for pedestrians everywhere, especially when you’re driving while visibility is limited.
  • Look for Crosswalks: When driving, be prepared to yield to pedestrians entering a crosswalk. Never pass vehicles who are stopped at crosswalks. There could be pedestrians crossing that aren’t in your field of vision until it’s too late.
  • Be a safe driver: Adhering to the basic rules of the road, observing the speed limit, and never driving under the influence will dramatically decrease your chance of being involved in a pedestrian accident.

Whether you’re behind a wheel or on foot, ensuring you maintain a courteous and attentive attitude while you’re on your way will help minimize your chance of being in a 100% avoidable accident.

If you think your community is in need of additional pedestrian infrastructure, contact your local Public Works Department. 

Posted by Verliz Williams Tuesday, August 3, 2021 9:22:00 AM

Hurricane Preparedness 

A team is only as strong as its playbook. The more thorough the playbook, the more successful the team will be. It’s no different for you and your family this hurricane season, as you put together a hurricane preparedness playbook of your own.

In order to keep you and your family safe, your hurricane preparedness playbook should focus on how to prepare before, during, and after the storm.

Before the storm is your time to sign up for local alerts, prepare evacuation plans and emergency kits, protect your property, and safeguard all important documents and records.

  • Local alerts: Sign up to receive emergency notifications to your phone through Alert Pinellas (http://www.pinellascounty.org/alertpinellas/), download Ready Pinellas, and follow the Pinellas County Government and Sheriff’s Office on major social media platforms for real time updates.
  • Know your zone: If you’re unsure if your home is in an evacuation zone visit http://kyz.pinellascounty.org/ to locate shelters near you. For those residents who live on barrier islands, the quickest way to reenter is by having an emergency access permit. To register for a permit visit: https://pcsoweb.com/barrierislandpassapplication.
  • Emergency Kits: Having enough supplies to make it through the hurricane isn’t enough. Your supplies should be able to sustain you and your family during the recovery period as well. Your kits should have enough food and water for each person for at least three days, batteries, radios, phone chargers, and cash. To see additional must-have supplies for your kit, visit page 10 of the 2021-2022 Pinellas County All- Hazard Guide (http://www.pinellascounty.org/emergency/pdf/all_hazard_guide.pdf).
  • Protect your property and important documents: Whether you are evacuating or sheltering in your home, one of the most important steps is to make sure your windows, roofs, and garage doors are protected and secured. Other precautions that should be taken are clear your yard of debris and check the seals around your doors and windows.

The time you spent preparing pays off during the storm. If you are evacuating, take your necessities and follow posted evacuation routes to get to your destination safely. If you are sheltering in your home, remember to stay indoors, stay away from windows and glass doors, and keep generators or other gasoline-powered equipment at least 20 feet away from doors, windows, or vents. Lastly, whether you decide to evacuate or shelter at home, be sure to keep your emergency kits and equipment in an accessible area for use during and after the storm.

After the storm, damage is inevitable and the dangers don’t go away. Keep these tips in mind after the storm:

  • Clean out and clean up: Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces will help keep your family safe and healthy since floodwater can contain sewage, bacteria, and chemicals. Also, be sure to throw away any food items that weren’t maintained at the proper temperature and avoid drinking tap water until it’s safe to do so.
  • Avoid floodwater and electrical equipment: When cleaning up or commuting back to your home, be sure to avoid floodwaters since they can contain underground or downed electrical lines. Any wet electrical equipment should be avoided, and if it is safe to do so, turn off electricity at the main breaker or fuse box of your home to prevent electrocution.
  • Document any property damage: If you notice significant damage, be sure to properly document it with photos and a list of all damaged or lost items for your insurance company.

This hurricane season make sure your hurricane preparedness playbook is setting up your team for success as you keep your eyes on the eye of the storm.

Posted by Verliz Williams Thursday, July 1, 2021 10:04:00 AM

May is Mental Health Awareness Month 

Law enforcement officers today can better recognize that some acts that are being committed are not criminal, but rather a symptom of an individual’s mental illness. Many times, those individuals suffering from mental illness are also struggling with a behavioral disorder or an addiction.

A law enforcement officer’s ability to recognize someone’s behavior caused by a mental illness doesn’t make them an expert. In fact, the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission only requires law enforcement academy recruits to have 16 hours of training related to identifying symptoms of mental illness and how to safely apprehend those individuals. Beyond their academy training, an even smaller number of law enforcement officers receive additional mental health-related training.

Compared to a mental health professional, the limited training given to law enforcement officers makes them the least qualified to handle individuals in a mental health crisis.

From financial shortages to a lack of professional service providers, Florida is among the lowest ranking states in the nation when it comes to access to mental health resources. These shortcomings led the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to establish the Mental Health Unit in 2016.

Initially, the unit utilized the co-response model that partnered one deputy and one social worker, both experts in their respective fields, who would jointly respond and address the individual and his or her needs. After a couple of years, it was clear that a change was needed due to a lack of case management and follow-ups. Part of the solution was a partnership with the Pinellas Integrated Care Alliance to establish the “PIC Team.” If an individual assessed by the mental health professional on the team needed more intensive services, the individual was referred to the PIC Team, which promised better results, but there was still room for improvement.

In September 2020, Sheriff Gualtieri announced a significant expansion of the Mental Health Unit that combined the co-response and case management model, strengthened the partnership with the Pinellas Integrated Care Alliance, and added more teams to the unit.

Regarding the unit’s expansion, Sheriff Gualtieri stated, “We can treat people better and produce better outcomes while keeping them out of the jail and out of the Baker Act system, which is what this initiative seeks to do.”

The goal is to decriminalize the stigmas associated with individuals who are struggling with a mental health issue and get them the help they need.

As the Mental Health Unit continues to work throughout the county and help those with a mental illness, changes will continue to be made, but with the current team and models in place, we are confident that we can help struggling individuals work toward improvement and success.

Posted by Michelle Whiting Saturday, May 1, 2021 2:49:00 PM

Honoring the Life of Deputy Michael J. Magli  

Though the sun was shining bright on February 23, 2021, it was the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office’s darkest day. Deputy Michael J. Magli was a true hero who saved countless lives and is an example of what it means to serve and protect with integrity and honor. Our PCSO family is heartbroken, but our lives will be forever changed and inspired by the legacy Deputy Magli left behind.

The support our community has shown the Magli family and our PCSO family has been overwhelming. Thank you for all the prayers, notes, and heartfelt acts of service over the last few weeks. No motion of compassion and sympathy has gone unnoticed.

We also give special thanks to our law enforcement partners and others for their contributions to the service.

This is the first line-of-duty death in the sheriff’s office’s 109-year history. We never wanted this day to come, but we will continue to remember and honor Deputy Magli’s life. His name will be inscribed on our memorial in front of the Sheriff’s Administration Building, but more importantly, his name will be inscribed in our hearts forever. 

The loss of Deputy Magli is a reminder of why our deputies wake up every morning. Their mission is to protect and serve the citizens of Pinellas County, and they put themselves in harm’s way to save lives. Their oath is not limited to working hours; they are committed to protecting the public 24-7 and have a duty to act when evil enters their path.

Deputy Magli’s example reminds us that a deputy’s responsibility often goes beyond what is required of the uniform and involves matters of the heart. He cared about people and went out of his way to show it, whether it was telling a fellow deputy a joke when they felt down, taking extra time on a domestic call to ensure the couple was okay, or simply giving a citizen a bright smile as he crossed their path. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is leading the way in public safety, but just as important, we are making sure we show people we care.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is accepting donations on behalf of the Magli family. The Deputy Michael J. Magli Memorial Fund will serve as the official memorial fund for the Magli family. Those interested in donating can visit any SunTrust banking location or send checks to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Fiscal Affairs Bureau made payable to the memorial.

Posted by Michelle Whiting Thursday, April 1, 2021 1:26:00 PM

How to Avoid IRS Scams 

One thing we can all be sure of every year is filing our taxes. The sheriff’s office reminds you that fraud continues to be a threat in Pinellas County. The Economic Crimes Unit usually sees an increase in scammers who may contact you during tax season.

The typical scenario involves a caller who pretends to be the IRS and demands payment over the phone. The scammer tells their potential victim that they owe taxes to the IRS and that there is an active warrant out for their arrest. Then, they instruct citizens to purchase pre-paid cards and provide the numbers to them.

Follow these five tips to avoid becoming a victim of an IRS scam:

  1. Check Your Computer’s Security

Thoroughly research any software or security settings to ensure that your computer or other devices are protected. Your personal information, like your cell phone number, could be sold to third parties without your knowledge.

  1. Beware of Public Wi-Fi

Avoid using public Wi-Fi when completing your tax return.

  1. Don’t Communicate With Unknown Contacts

The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text message, telephone, or social media to request financial information. If an unknown person attempts to contact you, don’t respond.

  1. Pay Close Attention to the Source

The IRS does not leave pre-recorded voicemails that are threatening or urgent. If they say you will be arrested, deported, or that your driver’s license will be revoked unless you pay them money immediately, this is a good sign that it is a scam. If you get an email asking for personal information, do not reply to it, open any attachments, or click on any links. The IRS’s official website is IRS.gov, so beware of other versions of it, like IRS.org or IRS.net.

  1. Use the Right Payment Method

If the caller asks you for a credit card, gift card, pre-paid debit card, iTunes card, or wire transfer, do not give it to them. The IRS does not use these payment methods; they mail paper bills to you. If you think you owe money to the IRS, visit: http://www.irs.gov/payments/view-your-tax-account.

Filing your taxes should never result in fraud. Report suspicious activity to the sheriff’s office by calling us at 727-582-6200

 

Posted by Michelle Whiting Monday, March 1, 2021 10:15:00 AM
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