Calls for Sheriff’s Office assistance on Siesta Key down from March to April, but crimes involving people and property higher in April

Number of Spring Break Operation incidents this year up 9%, compared to 2021 total

Sgt. Dan Smith. Photo courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Primarily because of late-April visitors from Buffalo, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office extended its Spring Break Operations until May 1 this year, the leader of the Siesta Key Substation told members of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) this month.

Normally, Sgt. Dan Smith explained during the May 5 SKA meeting, the operation runs from March 1 through April 15. Based on what happened this year, he continued, the Sheriff’s Office most likely will plan on its Spring Break Operation for the full month of April, along with March, in 2023.

As for the tourists who descended upon the Key from Buffalo: Having grown up in Attica, N.Y., Smith said, he is quite familiar with nearby Buffalo. The first group from that upper New York State community was on spring break through April 18, he added. Private school students from the Buffalo environs were out even longer, he continued.

Why all those people traveled from far upstate New York to Siesta Key was a mystery to him, he indicated.

In his May 5 update, Smith also talked about the “noticeable decline in people and traffic” since April had ended.

In discussing the crime statistics for the island in April, Smith said the Sheriff’s Office handled 597 calls for service. Of those, 55 incidents involved persons or property, comprising 9% of the total.

(In March, the calls for service added up to 671, but only 5% of them involved persons or property, Smith pointed out during his April report to the SKA members.)

Of the 33 incidents in April affecting individuals or property, four entailed residential burglaries, with half of those occurring in the same time frame, the report said. The determination was made that the cases were related. “An unknown suspect was seen entering carports” and then attempting to open garage doors, the report by a Sheriff’s Office crime analyst added. “No entry was gained,” the report said.

In one of the other two residential burglaries, the report noted, an unidentified person “smashed the hurricane glass bay window of a residence; entry was not gained.”

This graphic shows the locations of the April crimes involving people and property on Siesta Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

As for the non-residential burglaries: Tools were stolen from a maintenance shed at a resort and “unknown suspect(s) attempted to enter the shed of a bicycle rental business. The lock was melted,” the report added, but the attempt to enter the shed was unsuccessful.

In regard to the auto theft cases, the report continued, an electric bicycle, two electric scooters, a golf cart and a bus that was left running were stolen. The bus was recovered quickly, the report said; it had been abandoned.

Two Indiana juveniles on spring break were identified as the suspects in the golf cart case, the report pointed out.

Twenty of the April crimes were thefts, the report continued, and half of those involved bicycles.

The complete list of calls, by type, shows that the highest total — 76 —was related to illegal parking.

Additionally, officers dealt with 53 “Suspicious Incident” cases and 39 “Suspicious Person” calls. During his remarks to SKA members, Sgt. Smith explained that those were “really all self-initiated” by deputies.

This is a partial list of the April calls. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Spring break statistics

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office also gave the News Leader a copy of its Spring Break Operation Statistics, which compared calls for that period on the Key from 2018 through this year. The dates for the data were March 1 through April 15, even though Smith explained to the SKA members that officers kept the operation in place through the entire month of April.

The number of calls this year for the agency’s Zone 11, which encompasses the Key, was 1,020, a 9% increase from the total of 934 in 2021, the report shows.

In 2018, the calls added up to 784; they dropped to 730 in 2019 and fell again, to 608, in 2020, which was when the COVID-19 pandemic just was getting underway in Florida.

The number of arrests this year nearly doubled the count in 2021, the report notes: from 24 last year to 46 this year.

This chart compares the total number of calls for the Siesta Key Sheriff’s Office patrol zone from 2018 through 2022 for the Spring Break Operation period. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

In regard to traffic: Deputies wrote 311 citations this year and issued 213 warnings. They also issued 248 parking citations, the report says, and they hand-wrote 469 parking tickets.

When the News Leader asked Sheriff’s Office staff about the distinction between the citations and tickets, Media Relations Specialist Megan Krahe responded in a May 25 email.

These are data related to traffic enforcement for the Spring Break Operation this year. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

“The handwritten parking citations are exactly that,” she wrote: “[T]hey come from a book and are issued by deputies on ATV or possibly horseback when they don’t have that handy ticket printer. Conversely, the parking citations are those printed out from a Patrol vehicle. Combined, that total number is all parking citations (248 + 469) issued during that timeframe. They just had to keep them separate because the stat system doesn’t have a good way to combine them.”

Finally, officers conducted 190 field interviews this year, which marked a 233% increase from the 2021 total of 57, the report points out.

Sheriff’s Office Crime Analyst Caitlin Griffin compiled the spring break data, the report notes.

Low-speed vehicles and the trolley

During his May 5 SKA presentation, Sgt. Smith also provided the members information about the operation of low-speed vehicles on the island, in response to questions he had fielded.

“There should be no golf carts or low-speed vehicles” on South Midnight Pass where the speed limit is 40 mph, he stressed. Signage has been erected to that effect, he pointed out. The restriction, he added, “is enforceable,” as the signage notes, referring to a Florida law.

Whenever he sees drivers violating the law on that part of the road, Smith added, he stops them.

A News Leader online search found that Section 320.01(41) of the Florida Statutes defines a low-speed vehicle as “any four-wheeled vehicle whose top speed is greater than 20 miles per hour, but not greater than 25 miles per hour.”

The Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles agency (FLHSMV) adds that low-speed vehicles “may be operated only on streets where the posted speed limit is 35 MPH or less and must be equipped with the following safety equipment”:

  • Headlamps;
  • Front and rear turn signals;
  • Stop lamps;
  • Tail lamps;
  • Reflex reflectors, red — one each side and one on the rear;
  • Exterior mirror on the driver’s side and an interior rear-view mirror or exterior mirror on the passenger side;
  • Parking brake;
  • Windshield;
  • Seat belt for each designated seat; and a
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN).
This graphic explains how to make a golf cart ‘street legal’ in Florida. Image from the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles division

Moreover, FLHSMV points out that a golf cart, as defined in Section 320.01(22) of the Florida Statutes as “a motor vehicle that is designed and manufactured for operation on a golf course for sporting or recreational purposes and that is not capable of exceeding speeds of 20 miles per hour.” The agency adds, with emphasis, “Golf carts may be operated on roadways that are designated for golf carts with a posted speed limit of 30 mph or less. Golf carts may also cross a portion of a county road which intersects a roadway that is approved for golf carts, or that intersects a golf course or mobile home park. In both examples the roadway should have signs posted that golf carts share the roadway. The operation of golf carts on roads must comply with any more restrictive ordinances enacted by local government and should be verified prior to operating these vehicles.”

Golf carts can be converted to low-speed vehicles, FLHSMV notes, by adding to them the safety equipment listed above. The registration and title date should indicate the year a golf cart was converted to a low-speed vehicle, the agency points out.

The Sheriff’s Office has been working to persuade companies that rent golf carts and other low-speed vehicles on the Key to provide users with maps showing where the law allows those vehicles to be operated on the island, Sgt. Smith told the SKA members. “Hopefully, they’re educating their clients more.”

In regard to questions he has received on another topic that has been the focus of SKA members for years, Smith talked about drivers passing the Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley when it is loading or unloading passengers.

“If you’re the first vehicle in line” behind the trolley when it stops, he said, and no crosswalk is in the immediate area, and the trolley is far enough over to give the driver behind it sufficient room, that vehicle can go around it.

However, he emphasized, someone well back in the line of vehicles behind the trolley should not attempt to pass it. Trying to go around it from a well-removed position is likely to lead to problems, he added.