KENNETH CITY — Over the years, this town's residents and its officials have squabbled over some odd issues.
Now a dispute has broken out over perhaps one of the least expected issues: Who is primarily responsible for protecting the students and teachers at Dixie Hollins High School? The school, at 4940 62nd St. N, is in the unincorporated Lealman area literally on the edge of Kenneth City.
The dispute could be passed off as just another quirky Kenneth City spat except that it is one factor being used to justify police expenditures for items ranging from high-powered weaponry to ballistic shields. It was also used as a reason supporting a proposal to add a canine unit to the Kenneth City Police Department, an issue that was tabled Wednesday.
For the Pinellas County sheriff, the answer as to who is responsible is clear — he is. The school is in his jurisdiction and he has two armed deputies stationed on campus daily.
For some Town Council members and residents, the answer is equally clear — their police are responsible. They're closer, the argument goes, and would be there first if anything went wrong.
"I would consider the Kenneth City Police Department the people they're going to depend upon," council member Phil Redisch said during Wednesday's council meeting.
Council member Joanne DeSimone, who oversees the Police Department, agreed, saying a deputy had told her that Kenneth City is first responder to Dixie. The fact that the sheriff has two deputies at the school is basically irrelevant, she said, because Kenneth City would arrive more quickly at the school than would backup deputies.
"Let's say what is true," DeSimone said.
But Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said, "That's not true."
The first police response to any emergency at Dixie, he said, would come from the two deputies who are there. If they need help, "we've got plenty of officers in the area," the sheriff said.
Gualtieri added, "Are we relying on (Kenneth City)? No. … We're only relying on our own people and resources."
Kenneth City police Chief Mike Rossi conceded Friday that Gualtieri is right about who is the "first responder." DeSimone, he said, is trying to explain that Kenneth City might be the first to arrive should deputies at Dixie call for help.
"She just doesn't understand the proper terminology," Rossi said of DeSimone's statements.
Rossi said he talked with DeSimone after Wednesday's meeting to make sure it was clear. But DeSimone and others have been saying it for months.
That's because, Rossi said, some Kenneth City residents have argued against improvements to the department. DeSimone, he said, has merely been trying to explain why "we need to have the equipment, the rifles and the ballistics (shields)."
Michael Bessette, the associate superintendent of operational services for the Pinellas County School District, said he's a bit confused by the dispute. Bessette, who coordinates police coverage for the school district, said the sheriff is responsible for all schools in unincorporated Pinellas, including Dixie.
"I don't understand it," Bessette said. "Typically police departments don't look to go outside their jurisdiction. … I've never heard of Kenneth City's concern or interest in being first responder there."
In a police emergency, he said, deputies at the school would respond and, if necessary, call in other Pinellas deputies for backup. If the school called 911, the sheriff would be the agency that rolls on the call.
And Gualtieri said his department has plans and procedures in place for such emergencies. In addition, deputies have been trained to work with each other to help make any emergency response at Dixie, or anywhere else, more efficient.
"I don't know what they're trained to do or not do," he said of Kenneth City's officers.
"If they did respond, or anybody else, it would be under the mutual aid agreement," Gualtieri said.
And even if they responded, he said, the sheriff would be in charge.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.