Updated strategic plan focuses on ‘effective management and law enforcement practices’ throughout the county
With 425 sworn law enforcement officers, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office made 8,607 arrests and 425 marine safety checks, issued 33,687 traffic citations, cleared 6,398 of the 7,637 warrants it received in 2016, the office has pointed out in its latest annual report.
Along with the sworn officers, the staff consists of 198 correctional officers and 350 civilians, the report notes; 613 are men and 330 are women. Altogether, using 542 vehicles, personnel drove 6,494,692 miles in 2016, the report says.
In conjunction with the release of the annual report, Sheriff Tom Knight also provided an update of the office’s Strategic Plan.
As in years past,” he wrote, he and his staff had partnered with Jim Sewell, retired assistant commander for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), to facilitate the latter process. It entailed “dialogues with community stakeholders, our internal employees, and command staff,” a news release explains. The final result was “a road map for the next four years so that we can best serve Sarasota County and remain one of the top employers in the state of Florida,” Knight added in the release.
The annual report offers details about the work of the various departments that comprise the Sheriff’s Office. For example, the Public Safety Communications Center — which handles all 911 and non-emergency communications — received a total of 646,505 calls in 2016. Its 110 employees provide full dispatch services for all county and city law enforcement agencies and fire departments except for the North Port Police Department. In May, that center became the second one in the state to launch “Next Generation Text-to-911” services, the report points out. That leads to faster accessibility of services for people who are hard of hearing, deaf or speech-impaired, the report notes, adding, “Text-to-911 also helps in situations when a crime is in progress, the caller is facing domestic abuse, or when the caller is injured and cannot speak.”
“Our innovative and progressive programs and policing methods continue to make Sarasota County a premier place to work and live,” said Knight in a news release accompanying the report. “Being a full-service, 24/7 organization means a lot happens behind the scenes and our annual report gives us an opportunity to show citizens what we are doing to reduce crime and enhance the quality of life in Sarasota County,” he added.
Facts and figures
Among other statistics, the annual report says the county’s Detention Center processed 12,319 arrests in 2016, noting that the jail “is the receiving facility for all arrests by [the Sheriff’s Office], local municipal police departments, Florida Highway patrol and other state and federal agencies.” Of those arrests, 6,108 were for misdemeanor charges, 6,008 for felonies and 203 for civil infractions, the report points out.
As for officers working in the county’s judicial facilities: They welcomed 440,908 people last year, the report says; “however, they also had to confiscate 10,543 knives, razors, firearms and chemical weapons,” and they made 134 arrests.
The Sheriff’s Office provides security to all the 12th Judicial Circuit Court facilities in the county, the report notes — from the Lynn N. Silvertooth Judicial Center on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota to the R.L. Anderson Building in Venice.
In its ongoing endeavor “to provide members with the best in technology and resources,” the report continues, the Sheriff’s Office “became the first agency in the state to adopt COBRA.net,” software that enables officers to access multiple databases in the search for information with just “the click of a button.” That technology makes it possible for deputies to share information and identify “crime trends in real-time,” the report says.
Since the technology was launched in 2016, the report notes, 290 sworn officers have been trained to use it, accessing it from their vehicles as well as their desktops. Eventually, the report continues, they will be able to use a mobile COBRA.net app; that is expected to be available later this year.
Yet another division of the Sheriff’s Office, the report points out, is Animal Services, which is part of the Law Enforcement Division. In 2016, the 31 full-time Animal Services employees and more than 100 volunteers were responsible for returning 902 animals whose owners had lost them, transferring 711 animals to rescue groups and other facilities, and seeing 296 animals adopted, the report says.
In regard to the Corrections Department, the report points out that in 2016, the Sheriff’s Office “launched an opiate addiction treatment program in the jail.” In partnership with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court’s Drug Court, Armor Correctional Health Services and the nonprofit organization Centerstone, the report continues, “inmates who suffer from opiate addiction can receive treatment in the form of a monthly injectable dose of [Vivitrol],” a prescription medication used to treat opiate dependence. Those inmates also receive “extensive drug therapy,” the report adds. “Candidates are identified through Drug Court and are required to be opiate-free for at least seven days” before they receive the first dose of Vivitrol. After those patients’ release from jail, the report adds, they are directed to continue outpatient care through Centerstone while remaining under the supervision of Drug Court.
The Sheriff’s Offender Work Program also continued to prove its value in 2016, the report notes. Altogether, 355 people were sentenced to the program last year, and 179 had completed it by the time the report was published.
Offenders in the program finished 690 work details at various locations throughout the county, including cleanup initiatives at beaches and in parks and cemeteries, as well as graffiti removal, the report adds. Their work saved Sarasota County an estimated $155,715.57, “which would have been paid to contract labor,” the report says.
Those who enter the program but fail to complete it “must serve their original jail sentences on consecutive days, not weekends,” the report points out.
As part of its community outreach, the report continues, the Sheriff’s Office donated more than $113,000 last year to a variety of groups, including the college preparation program of UnidosNow, the Laurel Civic Association, the NAACP, Community Youth Development, Brothers & Sisters Doing the Right Thing, First Step of Sarasota, the Venice Middle School Young Marines, the Sarasota Coalition on Substance Abuse, the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County, Booker High School in Sarasota and the Sheriff’s Activities League of Sarasota County. Those Sheriff’s Office funds, the report explains, are derived from unclaimed property and some property forfeited by criminals.
In yet another aspect of its behind-the-scenes work, the Sheriff’s Office saw 54 county residents graduate from the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Academy, a 10-week program that allows members of the public to spend time with Sheriff’s Office personnel to learn more about the office’s operations. For example, the participants get to visit the Mounted Patrol barn and listen to 911 calls in real time as they stand behind the walls of the Public Safety Communications Center, so as not to distract call center personnel.
The strategic plan
“Since taking office in 2008, Sheriff Knight has focused on ensuring the use of effective management and law enforcement practices throughout the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office,” a news release explains. During his first term, Knight launched the agency’s first comprehensive initiative to develop strategies “that would enhance the quality of life in Sarasota County, reduce crime, and guide [his personnel] toward effective and progressive practices,” the release adds.
The 2017-2021 plan’s development began in August 2016 with a citizen advisory group participating in facilitated discussions to answer questions about their expectations of the Sheriff’s Office and pressing community issues, the release adds. “The group included several key stakeholders from various organizations,” as well as teens from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County, the release says. Simultaneously, an internal advisory group comprising 22 members from throughout the agency convened to develop the strategic plan. “The agency’s command staff served as a governance body to review, refine and approve the recommendations of the internal and citizen advisory groups,” the release points out.
During the planning process, the Sheriff’s Office — with the assistance of Sewell — reviewed the Final Report of The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing in comparison with the Sheriff’s Office’s 2013-2017 strategic plan, the release adds.
“This document is something we hope the public and our members will be very proud of,” said Knight in the release, adding that he encourages “all citizens to review our objectives that will chart our course and hold us accountable for the next four years.”
The strategic plan may be downloaded from the Sheriff’s Office website.