The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office recently published its 2011 annual report for the county. In the report, Tom Knight, who is serving his fourth year as sheriff of Sarasota County, addressed information regarding the year’s budget, significant achievements and the most pressing crime issues.
Although overall crime increased by a little more than 5% between 2010 and 2011, the report notes that crime remains relatively low in Sarasota, and that even a modest increase in the number of crimes can raise the percentage in a disproportionate way. The report went on to point out that overall crime is down 6% since 2008, and that DUI arrests in 2011 increased by nearly 6%, marking an increase for the second consecutive year.
According to the report, the biggest crime problems facing the county are prescription-drug abuse and burglary, which are intertwined, because car and home break-ins as well as stolen metals are used to fund pill addictions. The value of air conditioner thefts alone in 2011 totaled $1.3 million, and after including aluminum, copper, silver and other precious metals, Sarasota County saw $2 million in thefts in 2011.
In an effort to combat these problems, the Sheriff’s Office worked with county attorneys and area businesses to present several new ordinances to the county commissioners. In June, two ordinances were passed that addressed zoning and regulatory requirements for pain-management clinics, and doctors have since requested 6,500 patient advisory reports before prescribing potent painkillers. Outreach and education efforts have resulted in residents turning in 1,438 pounds of prescription medication to Venice and Sarasota Sheriff’s Office dropboxes in 2011.
In an effort to fight property crimes, two ordinances were passed in December that require second-hand dealers and secondary metal recyclers to comply with stricter regulations, similar to those that apply to pawn shops.
The 2011 Sheriff’s Office budget was $87,653,386, which remains fairly consistent for the fifth year. The ratio of police officers to citizens falls a little below the Florida average. The report indicates that the number of law enforcement deputies per 1,000 citizens remains at 1.3, compared to an average of 1.42 for all 67 Florida counties.
Knight has made efforts to restructure the agency to increase efficiency and reduce personnel costs. The past three years have seen a 67% reduction in overtime costs. These, among other efficiencies, have allowed the agency to provide all employees with their annual step increase, and Knight was able to return $1.19 million to the Board of County Commissioners at the end of the fiscal year. This brings the total of funds returned over the last three years to $2.9 million.
The Sheriff’s Office was also able to donate thousands of dollars, raised in fundraisers and seized from criminals, to charitable organizations. Knight presented Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast with a $15,000 check. The department also donated $2,500 to sponsor the Greatness Beyond Measure Teen Summit; $2,000 to the Florida Missing Children’s Day Foundation; and $1,500 to Do the Right Thing of Sarasota County.
As a result of Knight’s second annual Corporate SWAT Challenge, 17 teams from area businesses competed to raise $35,000 for the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranches.
Click here to view 2011 Sarasota County Crime Stats