Tuesday, May 22, 2018
News Roundup

SWAT team is ready for duty in Pasco

Chief James Steffens ushered me quickly out the back door of the New Port Richey Police Department, past a group of federal agents investigating what had become the talk of the town.

He had just met with those agents. He had just wrapped up an interview with CNN. Other national media wanted to set up interviews. They wanted all they could learn about Roy Antigua, the mystery man whose traffic ticket had led the city police to his house and a hefty collection of phony military uniforms and CIA, Homeland Security and U.S. Customs credentials.

Steffens wanted more, too. He was personally offended that Antigua had fooled him at a Memorial Day ceremony, dressed as a Coast Guard lieutenant commander with a chest full of ribbons. He said the imposter had disrespected war heroes.

But for now, Steffens had to leave this mystery to his detectives. "We're going on a house call,'' he told me.

Moments later, about 3:45 Wednesday afternoon, I found myself wearing a protective vest in the library at Fox Hollow Elementary School. A few dozen heavily armed men in olive drab fatigues sat in chairs made for little children and listened carefully as their team leader walked them through their latest mission.

Narcotics detectives had called on the Pasco Sheriff's SWAT team, concerned that a planned drug bust in Port Richey might involve weapons. I sat nervously a few feet from a panting German shepherd named Thor, who would get a piece of the bad guys if they ran. The team leader flashed pictures of the suspects and videos of the house on a large screen near a large poster of a bear holding a sign that said, "The letter R is for Reading.'' The chaplain led a prayer asking for wisdom and safety.

The team assembled in the library because their usual meeting place was occupied and the school was only a half-mile from the target. It seemed odd to watch a briefing about criminals in a place where signs encouraged children to behave. Fox Hollow teachers preparing their classrooms for the new school year must have been alarmed to see so many men with rifles and an assault vehicle.

Steffens wanted me to see the SWAT team in action because he is so fiercely proud of how it has advanced in the year since Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco made it a priority and did something that must still surprise law enforcement veterans who know most departments are hopelessly territorial. He included New Port Richey police in a "unified team'' and made Steffens the commander.

Understand: In this county, the Sheriff's Office is the Big Dog. The cities are small and lack the same resources. Nocco reached outside his own department last June to find his leader, and at the time Steffens was only a lieutenant. He became chief in December after Jeff Harrington left the department for a command position at the Sheriff's Office.

Steffens, 43, understood the challenge. He ran the Clearwater police SWAT team six years before retiring as a lieutenant in 2009. Nocco admired Steffens and wanted him to model the Pasco department after the one he led in Clearwater.

Steffens still had to prove he belonged. He organized intensive training for his volunteer force at Camp Blanding, recruiting Pinellas County SWAT instructors. He blended his own city officers with deputies who had to qualify for the team, which now numbers close to 50. He set up a demanding set of qualifications, mainly physical, for candidates.

"We're the 911 for the 911,'' Steffens said. "The best of the best. It didn't take long for these guys to size me up. They can spot bull---- a mile away. Being a member of special operations is what defines me. It's a privilege. The men know that now.''

The mission last week was the 59th since Steffens took charge. He has been at 55. Two ended with a suspect being shot, one in Dade City fatally.

This marked the first preplanned mission that ended without the team taking action. The main suspect left the house before detectives could serve their warrant. Six hours of waiting ended with Steffens, dressed in his New Port Richey blue, standing in the middle of his men.

"We're going home,'' he said, "and that is good.''

They reached into the circle and touched hands, much like a football team. In unison, they yelled, "Pasco SWAT!''

Steffens, whose week started with calls about stray dogs, stopped back at his office at 9:30 p.m. His wife had prepared a nice dinner. He would have to heat it up. He didn't seem to mind.

Comments
Despite Walt Disney's wishes, you can now buy alcohol at every Magic Kingdom restaurant

Despite Walt Disney's wishes, you can now buy alcohol at every Magic Kingdom restaurant

Well, you did it millennials. As of this month, every sit-down restaurant in the Magic Kingdom now serves alcohol.
Updated: 5 minutes ago
Proud mom orders ‘Summa Cum Laude’ cake online. Publix censors it to ‘Summa . Laude.’

Proud mom orders ‘Summa Cum Laude’ cake online. Publix censors it to ‘Summa . Laude.’

Saturday was Jacob Kosinski’s big day. His whole family, many from out of town, saw the Charleston, South Carolina, student graduate from his Christian-based homeschool program with a 4.89 grade point average and the coveted honor of summa cum laude....
Updated: 7 minutes ago
It’s picking time at Brooksville blackberry farm, one of a handful in the region

It’s picking time at Brooksville blackberry farm, one of a handful in the region

BROOKSVILLE — Black follows blue in the berry patches of Hernando County, but blackberry proponents claim they’re worth waiting for.Today’s blackberry brambles are thornless and don’t require bending over to pick. Their fruits are mouth-full juicier,...
Updated: 15 minutes ago
Amazon is selling facial recognition to Orlando law enforcement - for a fistful of dollars

Amazon is selling facial recognition to Orlando law enforcement - for a fistful of dollars

Amazon has been providing facial recognition tools to law enforcement agencies in Oregon and Orlando for only a few dollars a month, according to documents obtained by American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, paving the way for a rollou...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
Stanley Cup final schedule: Tampa Bay-Washington winner vs. Vegas

Stanley Cup final schedule: Tampa Bay-Washington winner vs. Vegas

Here's the schedule for the Stanley Cup final, which starts Monday — in Tampa Bay if the Lightning wins Wednesday and in Vegas if it doesn't:Lightning-Capitals winner vs. Golden Knights(All games on NBC at 8 p.m. ET)Monday, May 28Wednesday, May...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Report: Downtown Tampa has least amount of vacant land of top 25 metros

Report: Downtown Tampa has least amount of vacant land of top 25 metros

Tampa is facing major landscape changes as projects like Water Street Tampa gear up. But despite the ongoing and upcoming major development, a new CommercialCafé study says, downtown Tampa has a big challenge with the least amount of vacant land of a...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Forecast: Potential tropical system threatens to drench already soggy Tampa Bay area

Forecast: Potential tropical system threatens to drench already soggy Tampa Bay area

Flood warnings have been extended for the Alafia River in Lithia and the Little Manatee River at Wimauma as the National Weather Service continues to monitor a broad area of low pressure that has a building chance of developing into a tropical system...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Crime in Florida, Tampa Bay region decreased in 2017, data show

Crime in Florida, Tampa Bay region decreased in 2017, data show

Crime in Florida reached a 47-year low in 2017, according to state figures released Tuesday and touted as a "major announcement" by a Republican governor determined to win a U.S. Senate seat. The state’s total crime rate dropped by 6 percent from 201...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Top 5 at noon: Which Florida companies have biggest gaps between CEO and worker pay? What Florida Democrats can learn from tonight’s Georgia governor primary; and more

Top 5 at noon: Which Florida companies have biggest gaps between CEO and worker pay? What Florida Democrats can learn from tonight’s Georgia governor primary; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com:WHICH FLORIDA COMPANIES HAVE BIGGEST GAPS BETWEEN CEO AND WORKER PAY?Publicly traded companies are now required to disclose the ratio between what they pay their CEO and their median worker. ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Void the warrant and destroy the records. So says lawyer of Hernando County commissioner up on prostitution-related charges

Void the warrant and destroy the records. So says lawyer of Hernando County commissioner up on prostitution-related charges

BROOKSVILLE — Citing jurisdictional and procedural mistakes, the attorney for suspended Hernando County Commissioner Nick Nicholson is seeking to void the warrant for his arrest on prostitution-related charges and to erase all records of his arrest.I...
Updated: 1 hour ago