According to detectives in the Crimes Against Children Unit at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, drowning was the number-one cause of child deaths in Pinellas County in 2018. Nationwide, drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury, and every day about 10 people die from drowning—two of which are children 14 or younger. Due to the pervasive threat of drowning, families need to take extra care of kids whenever they are near water and always have the proper size life jackets on board while boating.
Florida law requires that one personal flotation device (PFD) per passenger be readily accessible on the vessel at all times, and children under age six must wear one while underway.
In an effort to ensure kids always wear a PDF while taking a trip out on a boat, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to support Operation Kid Float—a boating safety education program that provides youth life jackets at no cost at various locations throughout Pinellas County. Families can borrow one or more for their kids for the day and then return it after the trip.
Operation Kid Float kiosks can be found at the following parks and boat ramps:
When deputies are patrolling Pinellas County’s nearly 588 coastal miles on busy weekends, they keep an eye out for children who are already sporting their life jackets and reward them with Operation Kid Float t-shirts. If you are stopped by Marine Unit deputies without appropriately sized life jackets for the children aboard your boat, you may receive a citation and be asked to end your trip early and return home.
The loaner life jacket program may not only save your day and your wallet, but also the life of a child on board.
The school season is a busy, but exciting, time of year for everyone. Our goal at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is to make sure children stay safe as they make the trip back to school.
One way of ensuring that happens is staying aware of the increased traffic, pedestrians, and school buses on the road. Also, anticipate slower commutes to work if you must travel through school zones. Always follow the rules of the road when you approach a school or school bus.
Keep these guidelines in mind:
--Pay attention to the road and keep an eye out for children, especially in crosswalks.
--Watch out for school crossing guards and obey their signals.
--Slow down in school zones. Never go above the posted speed limit, and obey all traffic signs. The fines are doubled for speeding in a school zone or designated school crossing.
--Stop for school buses displaying stop signs. You do not have to stop when the roadway is divided by an unpaved median or raised barrier of at least five feet wide. You must remain stopped until all children are clear of the roadway and the bus signal has been withdrawn.
--Never text and drive, especially in a school zone. Deputies will issue warnings to offenders until December 31st of this year. Afterwards, they may issue citations.
If you have children, ensure they stay safe on their routes to school by following these tips:
--If your child walks to and from school, instruct him or her to use the same route every day and not deviate from their path or go elsewhere without notifying you first. Encourage them to walk with friends and use public sidewalks and crosswalks.
--Ensure your child always wears a helmet if they ride his or her bike. Check with the school to see if your child is allowed to ride a bike to class. Some schools do not allow students to do this until they reach a certain grade.
--Unless licensed to do so, never use handicap or emergency vehicle lanes or spaces to drop off or pick up children at school.
--Teach your child to avoid strangers and never get into a vehicle with one without your permission.
--Instruct your child on what to do if there is an active shooter at school using the mantra, “Run, Hide, Fight.” Also encourage them to report suspicious behavior among their classmates using the Fortify Florida app, telling you, or talking to their teachers and principal at school.
This school year, help us keep our kids safe. Know the rules, stay alert, be patient, and teach others to do the same.
From the Desk of Sheriff Bob Gualtieri
You may think that picking up your phone and texting a loved one while driving is no big deal, but all it takes is a couple of seconds of distraction to cause a motor vehicle accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds, which is like driving the length of a football field at 55 mph with your eyes closed.
According to EverDrive, an app that monitors people’s driving behavior to give auto insurance discounts, Florida ranked as the second to worst state for using a phone behind the wheel last year. In addition, 44 percent of the drives studied contained at least one distracted driving occurrence. This percentage was higher than the totals for speeding, aggressive acceleration, harsh braking, and poor turning. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles also found that in 2018, more than 170 crashes were caused by people who were texting and driving.
Due to these overwhelming statistics and reports of fatal crashes involving texting and driving, the Florida State Legislature passed a bill to make texting and driving a primary offense. Starting July 1st, if a driver is caught texting while the vehicle is in motion, Pinellas County law enforcement officers can give the person a nonmoving violation that adds three points to their driver’s license. First-time offenders may elect to complete a distracted driving safety program to forego these points.
Further, if the person is holding a wireless communication device—such as a phone, tablet, or game—while operating a moving motor vehicle in a designated school zone, work zone, or school crossing, they can also receive a citation. Initially, when this particular hands-free law goes into effect October 1st, deputies will give drivers warnings for this offense. But come January 1, 2020, they will receive a ticket, which will add three points to their driver’s license.
Pinellas County residents may still use their phones for navigation, making emergency phone calls and messages, and checking weather alerts. They can also text if the vehicle is stopped at a red light, or is stationary in standstill traffic.
However, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office encourages hands-free driving at all times to keep everyone on the road safe. Commit yourself to saving lives by never texting or using your phone while driving. If you see others distracted in their vehicles, encourage them to put their phones away.
If you drive and text, you pay. But remember, you could pay the ultimate price of injuring yourself or others. Here are a few alternatives to using a cell phone in your vehicle:
--Use a Bluetooth device that allows you to communicate without using your hands.
--Buy a car, or update your current vehicle, with a voice-activated navigation and phone system.
-- Put your phone on silent when you enter your vehicle to avoid the temptation to text and drive.
Remember, just drive. The rest can wait.
Floridians spend half the year on the lookout for hurricanes. When June approaches, it’s time to do an annual check-up on your hurricane preparedness.
First, know in which evacuation zone you live. There are many ways to find out: visit www.pinellascounty.org to look up your area, or download the free Ready Pinellas App on your mobile device. The Pinellas County Interactive Hurricane Evacuation Inquiry Line is also available to answer any emergency-related questions: 727-453-3150.
In the event of a hurricane warning, emergency management and public safety officials will communicate important messages to the community through broadcast news, social media, and the radio. It’s crucial to monitor these communication channels so that you know if you need to evacuate.
Follow @PinellasCounty on Instagram, @PinellasCountyNews on Facebook, or @PinellasCoNews on Twitter so that if a disaster strikes, you’ll see important information in your news feed. You can also follow the #getreadypinellas hashtag to instantly view hurricane preparedness tips and significant alerts. For additional information from law enforcement, follow the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook @PinellasSheriff, or Twitter @SheriffPinellas.
If you live in the barrier islands, register for an emergency access permit, which allows you to re-enter your residential area after the storm. When a mandatory evacuation order is lifted, law enforcement officials will scan this card at designated re-entry points.
To see if your city is included in the barrier islands, and to register for your permit, visit www.pcsoweb.com/emergency-access-permit, or call the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency line at 727-582-6200. If you have an emergency access permit, you do not need to register for it again. Don’t wait until there is an emergency evacuation order to get your permit; they are available all year and are accessible through your city government.
Next, make travel plans in case you must evacuate, or you determine that your home can’t withstand hurricane-force winds. Stay with trusted family members and friends, if possible.
As a last resort, you can evacuate to an emergency shelter. A few of them are specifically designated for citizens with special needs. If you need transport assistance to any Pinellas County shelter, register in advance online: www.pinellascounty.org/specialneeds. For a full list of shelters, visit www.pinellascounty.org/emergency, or call the Citizen Information Center at 727-464-4333.
Lastly, create a hurricane survival kit that includes a battery-powered radio, water, flashlights, batteries, non-perishable food items, and a first-aid kit.
Sometimes Pinellas County ends up in the path of a hurricane, and other times we miss the storm. No matter what happens, stay prepared and informed this hurricane season.
You can never be too prepared when you take a journey out onto the water. In Pinellas County, boating is one of the top and most frequent activities in the spring and summer months. However, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, thousands of boating accidents happen every year throughout the country. The most recent report from 2017 shows that there were 4,291 recreational boating accidents in the United States resulting in 658 deaths, 2,629 injuries, and $46 million in property damages.
Out of the victims who drowned, 84.5 percent were not wearing a life jacket, and alcohol use was the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. This means that preventing death and injury when taking your boat out is as simple as wearing a life jacket and not operating your vessel under the influence.
Aside from these two very important safety rules, we do advise Pinellas County citizens to also follow the following tips during boating season.
Words of love can change a life, but actions speak louder than words. Come February, many people focus their attention on exchanging valentines that share how much they love each other. But do you consider how you are showing love to others by your everyday lifestyle?
The home can be the most challenging place to display love. At the sheriff’s office, we sadly get many reports of domestic violence and child abuse. Even though parents try their hardest to keep their kids safe, turbulent marriages, stressful environments, and other dire circumstances can interfere with the level of care given to them.
In 2018, the most investigated child deaths in Pinellas County were caused by accidental drowning, followed by positional asphyxia, medical-related deaths, suicide, and murder.
Creating a safe space in your home for a child—both physically, mentally, and emotionally—takes foresight, planning, and love. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in five people who die from drowning are children 14-years-old and younger. Some tips to prevent unintentional drowning are:
In addition, monitoring your child’s activity on social media and any communication with friends and family members will help address bullying and the mental or emotional trauma caused by abuse. Child suicides have been on the rise between 2008 and 2016, the CDC reported, some of which were followed by episodes of bullying.
At the sheriff’s office, we provide educational events for the community to help parents navigate the often confusing and stressful technological climate children live in. These opportunities require your time and motivation.
Lastly, abusive head trauma too often follows episodes of anger and frustration. If you find yourself in a dangerous emotional state that could cause harm to your child, take a break and call a trusted friend or family member to help you. Remember that you are never alone and there is always someone who can help you navigate the pressures and anxieties of raising a child.
If you have reason to believe that a child you know is being abused, neglected, or abandoned, call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873. If you suspect or know of a child in immediate danger, call 911.
This Valentine’s Day, tell your children that you love them, but also show them that love by being intimately involved in their lives and taking the necessary precautions for their safety and wellbeing.
What is your New Year’s resolution for 2019? Some people focus on losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle while others may want to go back to school or simply get their homes more organized. Whatever you desire to do this year, we encourage Pinellas County citizens to add staying safe to their list of resolutions.
At the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, our priority is keeping everyone safe. As much as law enforcement officers work hard to protect the county, it is also every person’s responsibility to take precautionary measures to ensure his or her own safety.
So that’s why we invite you to adopt these safety resolutions for a safe 2019:
1. Stay aware of relevant, up-to-date information by using the Nextdoor app. Last year, the sheriff’s office joined Nextdoor—a mobile platform that helps you get to know your neighbors, community, and local law enforcement. After signing up, you are assigned to your neighborhood and can see local alerts about recent crime, as well as community concerns—like if someone’s dog is lost or there is a strange person knocking on doors late at night. Joining this online community will not only help you form relationships with neighbors so you can rely on each other in case of emergencies, but also quickly respond to local threats. Nextdoor is free, so there’s no cost to being actively involved in your community.
2. Establish the 9 p.m. routine. For the past few years, law enforcement agencies around the country have joined the social media movement #9PMRoutine to encourage people to lock their homes and car doors before bed every night. Simply by making sure every door on your property is locked up by 9 p.m., burglaries can easily be prevented. Not only are you protecting your valuables, but you are also playing an important role in your community to prevent crime.
3. Sign up for the Pinellas County Crime Viewer to learn about crimes and emergencies in your area. If you have ever wondered what crimes are happening in your neighborhood, you can use the Crime Viewer website to see all kinds of activity on a map, including burglaries, traffic accidents, and domestic violence reports. All you need to do is go to the website at www.pinellascounty.org/crimeviewer, then type in your address and email and you will receive police reports directly to your inbox listing any crime going on around you. By staying informed, you can help protect yourself and family and friends from relevant threats near your home.
This year, make a New Year’s resolution that will protect you, your belongings, and your community. On behalf of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Happy New Year!
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office has a rich history filled with heroism, hardship, and even humor. For years, we have housed pieces of our heritage in the lobby of the Sheriff’s Administration Building. Now, we have a second location to display more of these items at the Lowe House in Heritage Village in Largo.
A living history museum just down the road from our administration building is the perfect place to showcase important artifacts and information about former sheriffs and milestones in law enforcement.
The Lowe House, where the exhibit is located, was built in 1888 and gives visitors a glimpse into what life looked like for the early settlers of Pinellas County. Wesley Lowe and his wife, kids, and father lived in this house in Anona under Pinellas County’s first sheriff, Marvel Whitehurst, until the 1930s. The McMullen brothers’ homes are also in Heritage Village; they were prominent figures throughout Pinellas County’s law enforcement history. We feel privileged to honor those who have served the agency in this historic setting.
The Portraits of a Sheriff gallery begins in 1912 with, “The Formative Years,” of the sheriff’s office when the first courthouse and jail was built. The original county patrol officers focused on guarding the citrus groves from thieves and investigating moonshine stills.
Visitors then enter into the next era of law enforcement by walking through old cell doors from our second jail—which housed inmates from 1918 to 1950. This room that focuses on Pinellas County Sheriff’s from 1953 to 1972 is called “A Changing Force,” and displays a uniform from our patrol officers in the 1960s, a helmet that officers had to wear to protect them from rioters, and one of our first computers.
The community of Pinellas County witnessed major milestones during this time period, including the first female deputy, the first African-American deputy, and our first K-9—a bloodhound named Spotlight.
The next 30 years shaped the modernization of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. After 1972, the organization expanded services by adding the flight, marine, and K-9 units. In addition to displaying photos of some of our greatest accomplishments, like the narcotics seizure of the 1980s when officers found cocaine inside cedar planks, we also have more lighthearted photos involving community engagement. After Star Wars came out in 1977, the sheriff’s office used Darth Vader in schools to encourage kids to stay safe and prevent crime.
Our hope is that the families of Pinellas County will be enlightened and inspired by this unique telling of our sheriffs’ history. There is something for everyone to learn—even the kids can stay engaged by playing an interactive detective game.
The doors of the Lowe House are open, and we invite the citizens of Pinellas County to take a journey through the history of our sheriffs and their staff who have had, and continue to have, a large impact on people’s lives.
Heritage Village is free to the public and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Non Emergency Line: (727) 582-6200 | In an Emergency call 911ADA info