Arrests down during early weeks as COVID-19 cases began climbing in Sarasota County, sheriff reports

Sheriff’s Office dealing with just two non-essential businesses in the county whose owners refused to close in response to governor’s ‘safer-at-home’ Executive Order

Sheriff Tom Knight. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

During an April 10 press conference conducted by Sarasota County staff, Sheriff Tom Knight responded to a question about whether his staff has been strained, given the public health crisis brought on by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Knight assured the public that his team has been doing well. In fact, he noted, “Arrests are down, which is a good signal for this county …”

In response to a Sarasota News Leader request this week for details about that comment, Kaitlyn Perez, the Sheriff’s Office’s community affairs director, provided a couple of graphics.

Comparing the period of March 19 to April 4 with the same weeks in 2019, one graph showed that the Sheriff’s Office made 86 fewer arrests this year. In 2019, the total was 286.

That graph showed figures for other law enforcement agencies, as well, which underscored Knight’s April 10 comments.

The Sarasota Police Department made 131 arrests during the period in 2019; for the same weeks this year, the total was 89.

For the Florida Highway Patrol, arrests for the same period in 2019 numbered 15; for this year, the total was four.

The North Port Police Department made 64 arrests during the period in 2019; for this year, the figure was 46.

Overall, “This represents a 39.6% reduction on average from the 2019 to 2020 timeframes,” the graph points out.

This graphic compares arrest data from a period in 2019 to the same period in 2020. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Perez also provided the News Leader a graph showing comparisons involving the county’s Supervised Release Program; release of arrestees on their own recognizance — which entails no bond; and new jail intakes.

Covering the same time period as the arrest data, the graph shows that the number of people confined in the Sarasota County Jail this year was 341, compared to 505 in 2019.

Additionally, the number of people brought before a judge for a first appearance in a criminal case who were granted supervised release during the period this year was 128, compared to 79 in 2019.

The 12th Judicial Circuit Court explains on its website that the Supervised Release Program (SPR) for the county has been designed for the gathering and presentation of information “about newly arrested defendants and available release options for use by judicial officers in deciding what, if any, conditions are to be set for released defendants. SPR recommends the least restrictive conditions of release to the community that promote public safety and return to court.

“SPR supervises defendants released from custody during the pretrial period by monitoring their compliance with certain conditions of release and helping to [ensure] that they appear for scheduled court hearings,” the website continues. “SPR supervision gives defendants the opportunity to participate in a variety of pro-social interventions in an effort to decrease the likelihood of future criminal behavior.”

“SPR recommendations are designed to manage flight and public safety risks associated with releasing defendants,” the website points out. “Throughout the pretrial release period, SPR notifies the Court, prosecution, and defense counsel of defendant non-compliance. This information allows all of the parties to respond promptly to violations and fulfill their common purpose of serving the community,” the website says.

This graphic compares data from the same period — March 19 through April 4 — for the handling of cases for those arrested. ‘SPR’ refers to the county’s Supervised Release Program. ‘ROR’ refers to release on recognizance. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

In her April 13 response to the News Leader, Perez, the community affairs director, did point out that the Sheriff’s Office is awaiting all the March crime data, so it can review those numbers. She provided figures that already had been collected.

“I can tell you vehicle burglaries are always up this time of year with school being out and spring break happening, so this year is no different,” Perez pointed out.

These are the data she sent the News Leader:

  • Domestic violence incidents — In March 2019, the Sheriff’s Office responded to 236 (including criminal and non-criminal) calls for service in reference to domestic violence. In March 2020, the Sheriff’s Office responded to 251.
  • Suicides — In March 2019, the Sheriff’s Office responded to five incidents in reference to a suicide. The figure for March 2020 remained the same.
  • Vehicle burglaries — January: 73 reported. Forced entry, 8 (locked); no forced entry, 58 (unlocked); unknown, 7. February: 39 reported. Forced entry, 1 (locked); no forced entry, 29 (unlocked); unknown, 9. March: 101 reported. Forced entry, 6 (locked); no forced entry, 76 (unlocked); unknown, 19.

Looking ahead

The Sheriff’s Office staff also is eager to see the April crime statistics, Perez told the News Leader in her April 13 email, given Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Executive Order that went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on April 3. That called for the public to stay at home as much as possible and required non-essential businesses to close.

During the April 10 press conference, Sheriff Knight talked about how “very busy” his staff was on April 3, reviewing the 15 pages of exemptions attached to the governor’s Executive Order. “It was a little chaotic over the last weekend,” he added, as officers worked to implement the order. “But things have gone well.”

This is one page of businesses or positions exempt from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ‘safer-at-home’ Executive Order, which went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on April 3. Image courtesy Florida Governor’s Office

He emphasized that deputies focused on educating business owners. “Our job was to help people understand [the Executive Order].”

Given the thousands and thousands of businesses in the county, Knight pointed out, “There are only a couple … that we will have to continue to deal with” because of non-compliance. His staff ran the numbers earlier, he added, coming up with the statistic that only 0.00011% of all the non-essential businesses in the county had refused to close.