Longboat Key police respond to plenty of “snake in the toilet” calls that many departments wouldn’t handle. But officers also play an important role in deterring crime through their presence.
“If a criminal knows squad cars are all over town, they’re going to be less apt to commit a crime,” said Police Sgt. John Thomas. “The residents like and expect to see us around town.”
In retail, good customer service is said to be the best way to deter shoplifting. Likewise, Longboat Key police believe heavy patrol on the streets and in the water is the best way to keep the town safe.
On a typical 12-hour shift, there are three officers on duty.
“Most of our officers come from a military background and have already had extensive careers in law enforcement,” Thomas said. “A job here means community service plays a larger role in their operations than writing tickets and making arrests.”
Although Longboat police respond to calls larger departments might scoff at, police work on the Key isn’t all improper beach lighting during turtle nesting season and expired license plate tags.
We found that out first-hand Aug. 22, when we joined police from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., first answering calls and patrolling the streets by squad car, then taking to the water after lunch with marine patrol.
What follows is a minute-by-minute account of Friday’s police shift.
BY THE BOOK
A day in the life of a Longboat Key police officer, chronicled by the Longboat Observer on Friday.
8:00 The Longboat Observer arrived at the Longboat Key Police Station to meet up with officers for the ride along, but officers were late due to an early-morning wreck on Gulf of Mexico Drive. The wreck occurred when a motorcyclist scraped the side of a vehicle while attempting to pass it. We waited in the lobby while officers finished up with the case.
“Police work isn’t all field work, it’s a lot of paperwork and meetings,” Sgt. John Thomas said.
8:31 Thomas introduces Officer Daniel Bidwell, the first officer with whom we’ll be riding, and briefs us on the day ahead over coffee and doughnuts. Bidwell is the town’s newest police officer, having joined the force Aug. 11. Previously, he spent 20 years in the Air Force, then served for 10 years as a police officer in Charlotte County.
8:53 Bidwell is dispatched to the 700 block of Jungle Queen Way for a property damage call. When we arrive, Bidwell knocks on the door a few times before a woman answers; she’s visibly upset about construction trucks backing into her yard. He speaks calmly with two men, telling them to park elsewhere. Bidwell speaks with the woman again, who smiles when he tells her about the resolution.
“Here most of the calls we receive are resolved peacefully and without having to write a lot of tickets.” Bidwell said. “I get a chance to do the side of the job I’ve always enjoyed best, which is the community service aspect.”
9:20 Bidwell leaves the scene and begins to patrol the north end of town, making rounds near the Longbeach Village and Longboat Pass Bridge. Several motorists reduce their speed as Bidwell’s patrol vehicles pulls behind them, a problem he says most officers encounter in their squad cars.
9:45 Dispatch notifies Bidwell about a fleet van entering the island with expired tags. We search up and down GMD, but the van is nowhere to be found.
10:00 We meet up with Officer Raymond Bergeron near Cannons Marina and make another patrol around the north end of the Key.
10:14 Bidwell and Bergeron both take what was thought to be a domestic disturbance call at a residence near Bay Isles Road. The dispatcher said an elderly woman had called, saying she locked herself in the bathroom to get away from her angry husband. However, when police arrived on the scene it turned out to be a prank.
The owner of the home said there was no elderly woman locked in his bathroom. Police cleared the home, and the man told them he argued with a caller who phoned his home in an attempt to scam him. Police believed the scammer called police and gave police the man’s address as revenge.
“A lot of times the people making the scam calls are from out of the country, and it’s not easy to trace those calls back and find the person responsible on the other end,” Bergeron said.
11:15 We join Officer Allan Bores in his patrol car. At 32, Bores is the youngest member of the police department, a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan.
We head north again and walk to Beer Can Island before checking other beach access points to make sure beachgoers are legally parked and aren’t disobeying town ordinances that prohibit dogs, alcohol and camping on public beaches.
Afterward, we take a look around the shuttered Colony Beach & Tennis Resort due to recent vandalism and thefts on the property.
12:15 Bores heads to lunch at his favorite spot in town, the Longbeach Café in Whitney Beach Plaza.
1:00 We return to the station, and Deputy Police Chief Frank Rubino introduces Officer John Majka, one of the department’s two marine patrol officers. (Bores is the other marine officer.) The sun is shining, and the skies are clear as Majka packs water and sunscreen for the boat at the station.
1:15 We arrive at the Longboat Key Club Moorings, where the police and fire departments dock their boats, to board the department’s 2007 30-foot Intrepid boat, taking to the water and heading toward Jewfish Key. Majka typically starts a day patrolling Jewfish Key, which has about a half-dozen residences and is accessible only by boat, along with the Key’s canals. Majka hikes the island, checking to make sure boaters haven’t disturbed the island’s residences, something he does on most shifts because of the nearby sandbar’s popularity among boaters. However, not many people are on the water today.
4:15 A storm creeping in from Sarasota forces us to head back under the Longboat Pass Bridge to an area near Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant, where clouds are fewer. We wait out the storm and watch four dolphins hunt for fish for approximately 30 minutes near Jewfish Key before Majka decides it’s safe to head back onto the water.
5:00 After the storm passes, we take off in the boat toward Sarasota to patrol the water near both the Harbourside and Islandside areas of the Longboat Key Club. We patrol the area for several hours, but it’s a relatively slow day on the water.
7:00 We head back to the marina as the sun begins to set to spray down the boat before heading back to the station.
CAUSE FOR CALLS
The following types of incidents generated the most calls for police during the first six months of 2014.
• Traffic stops
• Rescue (assist Longboat Key Fire Rescue)
• Public service
• Suspicious incidents/people
• Traffic (accidents)