KENNETH CITY — Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has come riding to the rescue — agreeing to provide traffic crash records for free rather than see this town's police refer motorists to a for-profit site that could cost them $16 for an accident report.
Computerized access to free crash reports will be an extension of the recordkeeping service Gualtieri already provides to Kenneth City. Under the agreement, the town pays the Sheriff's Office to keep computer tracking and storage of its reports. The expansion, which will add no more to the town's cost, will enable motorists free access to copies of crash reports. It's the same system, Gualtieri said, that his department uses in the unincorporated county and cities that he covers.
The expanded system went into service this past week in Kenneth City.
"They have no records management system other than our system," Gualtieri said. "(Because) they're already using our system (the expansion is) easy."
In making the change, Gualtieri was reacting to a suggestion by Kenneth City police Chief Mike Rossi that the town contract with a company called buycrash.com. Under the proposal, Kenneth City would receive thousands of dollars worth of free computer software. In exchange, the town would agree that its officers refer people seeking accident reports to buycrash.com, where they could buy a copy for $16. The town would receive up to $5 per report. Currently, Kenneth City hands out the reports for free or a few cents a page.
The idea outraged Kenneth City Mayor Teresa Zemaitis, who wrote a scathing email to Rossi condemning the concept of profiting from people's troubles and of instituting a system that, she said, cut at the heart of the town's personalized police service.
Rossi said he did not intend the idea to be a moneymaker but a way to get much needed free traffic software for the town while providing convenience for those who did not want to come down to the Kenneth City Police Department to get a report. Motorists could still come and get the reports for free or a few cents, he said.
Gualtieri said he made the offer because, like Zemaitis, he is "totally opposed" to the idea.
"Citizens shouldn't be paying for it," Gualtieri said. "It shouldn't be for profit."
Under the new system, he said, the sheriff will provide free reports as he does now in jurisdictions he covers.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8450.