Sheriff’s Office’s 2018 Annual Report points to continued decrease in crime and array of services to community

Data included for all division operations

(From left) The senior members of the Sheriff’s Office are Major Jon Goetluck, Col. Kurt A. Hoffman, Sheriff Tom Knight, Major Paul Richard and Major Brian Meinberg. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Since Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight took office in 2009, violent crime is down 43.85% in the county, and Part I offenses — including murder, robbery and aggravated assault, as classified by the FBI — have decreased 51.61%.

The statistics are among an array of details in the Sheriff’s Office’s annual report for 2018, released in late March.

Among other data in the report are the following:

  • The Public Safety Communications Center, which has 114 employees, received 633,685 calls for 911 and non-emergency assistance last year.

The report explains that the Public Safety Communications Center is accredited by both the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch. “It also meets the state of Florida 911 Public Safety Telecommunicator Training Program requirements, which means 911 dispatchers and call-takers have a minimum of 240 hours of classroom instruction before being certified to answer calls.”

  • In 2018, the Sheriff’s Office made 6,231 felony arrests, 5,011 misdemeanor arrests and 208 civil arrests.
  • The Sheriff’s Office handled 1,022 out-of-county warrants.
  • During the worst of the county’s red tide event in 2018, people in the Sheriff’s Offender Work Program (SOWP) spent a total of 1,436 hours removing 207,040 pounds of dead fish and debris — 103 tons — from 13 county beaches. That work took place over 20 days, the report points out.
Participants in the Sheriff’s Offender Work Program clean up red tide debris on a county beach. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

The SOWP, which Knight established, is “a unique, court-ordered diversionary program,” the annual report explains. Altogether in 2018, the report notes, 365 people were sentenced to the program, and 164 completed it, though some were still serving their sentences as this year began. “Collectively, SOWP participants completed 434 work details at various locations,” the report adds. For example, they cleaned up parks and cemeteries — including the removal of graffiti. “This work saved the county $160,832.52,” the report notes, as the county would have had to hire labor to perform the services the SOWP participants handled.

County commissioners have praised the program over the years. It enables those convicted of low-level crimes to remain out of jail and, therefore, employed. The people who participate in the program serve out their sentences on consecutive weekends, Sheriff’s Office senior staff has explained to commissioners.

Regarding the Sheriff’s Office Courts and Corrections Division, the report notes that, in handling security for all 12th Judicial Circuit Court facilities in Sarasota County — including the Lynn N. Silvertooth Judicial Center in downtown Sarasota and the offices of the Clerk of Court — deputies welcomed 301,921 people in 2018. The report also points out that those court deputies “had to confiscate 8,251 knives, razors, firearms and chemical weapons. In 2018, court deputies made 126 arrests.”

Additionally, officers booked 8,136 people into the Sarasota County Jail. With several people arrested more than once, the report continues, the department processed 11,450 arrests altogether in 2018. “The jail is the receiving location for all arrests by [the Sheriff’s Office], local municipal police departments, Florida Highway Patrol and other state and federal agencies.”

In 2018, the report continues, “deputies made 475 arrests for Driving Under the Influence and issued 28,846 traffic citations.”

A dog enjoys some play time at the Animal Services Division. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Yet another program of the Sheriff’s Office is Animal Services, the report points out. That division has 33 full-time employees and provides ’round-the-clock services, including “care to thousands of Sarasota County animals,” the report adds.

In 2018, 435 animals were adopted from the division; 1,123 animals were transferred to rescue groups and other facilities; and “922 ‘lost’ animals were returned to [owners].”

In regard to community outreach, the report notes that the Sheriff’s Office “can use certain funds — including unclaimed property and evidence as well as some forfeited by criminals — to support community organizations that promote values such as good citizenship, crime reduction or drug abuse education.”

As a result, the report continues, the department donated more than $159,000 in 2018 to a variety of groups, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County, First Step of Sarasota, the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch, Harvest House Transitional Center, Mothers Against Drunk Driving of West Central Florida, Veterans Outreach, the Venice Young Marines and the Sarasota County Coalition on Substance Abuse.

Among other statistics, the report notes the following:

  • The members of the Mounted Patrol Unit spent 3,120 hours on horseback.
  • 55,244 pieces of property collected as evidence were donated or destroyed.
  • 2,155 “found” items were returned to owners.
  • 8,940 drug items were destroyed.
A graphic provides details about the Sheriff’s Office budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Altogether, the Sheriff’s Office has 440 sworn law enforcement officers, 353 civilian members and 202 Corrections Division deputies. Of those, the report points out, 621 are men and 347 are women.

In his introduction to the document, Sheriff Knight wrote, “More than anything, I hope this annual report illustrates for you the progressive and modern ways we are serving the public. Our philosophy is grounded in the belief that law enforcement will never be able to ‘arrest our way out of a problem.’ Whether it’s addiction, homelessness, mental illness, or the like,” he continued, the agency’s men and women are committed “to finding solutions to growing societal problems; and most importantly, to always serving with respect, fairness, and integrity.”