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Pasco sheriff's take-home car policy under fire

Driving home

Robert Sullivan, a former sheriff's lieutenant running for the top job, has criticized Sheriff Bob White for allowing certain employees to take home their unmarked or nonpatrol cars, including:

• 10 transport officers who have jail vans assigned to them personally.

• 1 transport officer supervisor.

• 2 bailiffs.

• 5 corrections lieutenants.

• 1 deputy who runs the agriculture unit at jail.

• 1 detention deputy who handles maintenance at the jail.

• 1 training officer assigned to detention.

• 1 detention deputy who oversees trusties who build cabinets, lights, etc.

• 2 captains and a major at the jail.

• 2 crossing guard supervisors.

• 1 auditor.

• 1 human resources director.

• 1 computer director.

• 1 chief financial officer.

• 1 chief accountant.

• 1 director of special projects.

• 1 judicial affairs coordinator.

• 1 director of forfeiture.

• 1 juvenile diversion specialist.

• 1 civilian computer trainer.

• 1 manager of accreditation.

• 1 data services director.

• 1 part-time mounted posse member who handles parades and training.

Sheriff Bob White is wasting more than $200,000 a year by letting civilian and nonemergency personnel drive unmarked agency cars for personal use, says Robert Sullivan, a retired lieutenant who is running against White in the August primary.

One of the beneficiaries of White's policy, according to Sullivan: a part-time civilian member of the sheriff's mounted posse.

"Everybody pretty much knows that it's a parade unit," Sullivan said. "It's a PR thing."

Others on Sullivan's list include the sheriff's directors of human resources, computers and finance, courthouse bailiffs and jail transport officers.

White, reached Wednesday evening, said he hadn't seen the list that Sullivan compiled and couldn't comment on it.

But he defended his agency's operations, saying he runs the Sheriff's Office more cost-effectively than any other county.

"When you do it cheaper than everybody else — rural or urban, big or small — there are management decisions that you make every day," he said. "I guess anybody can pick at that."

Sullivan said the 40 or so employees on his list don't just get the cars. They get county gas, too.

"It's a perk. It's not necessary," Sullivan said. "It's not aiding the law enforcement function. It's not protecting the public. It's a perk."

Sullivan said he did not count cars assigned to deputies, who have marked patrol cars that they take home when they go off duty.

The sheriff issued a general order in July 2006 establishing that privilege for deputies. It benefits the agency and the public, White wrote, because it helps deter crime by creating a greater presence on the streets and in neighborhoods, reduces response time to emergencies and cuts vehicle maintenance costs.

A 26-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, Sullivan got to take home his patrol car before he retired in November. Sullivan ran Pasco's vice and narcotics unit, and was frequently the face of high-profile drug busts.

But Sullivan questioned the public benefit of allowing someone like the top computer manager to drive an unmarked 2002 Chevrolet Impala on his own time.

"What kind of a computer meltdown at 3 in the morning would require him to be an emergency responder?" Sullivan asked.

He also questioned some omissions from the list. The 10 members of the jail SWAT team, Sullivan said, don't have take-home cars.

"They would definitely need to be able to be called back to duty in case of an emergency, so they should have a car," he said. "None of them do."

Sullivan said he calculated the cost of the 40-plus vehicles — $223,880 annually — based on the Sheriff's Office estimate of 44.5 cents per mile and 12,000 miles per year to operate a car, including tax, tag, title and fuel.

In nearby counties like Hillsborough and Pinellas, take-home cars are common.

In Hillsborough County, civilian employees, such as attorneys and public information officers, can take their unmarked law enforcement vehicles home, said public information officer Debbie Carter. Marked patrol cars also can be taken home by deputies, she said.

In Pinellas County, some civilian employees take home their unmarked cars, and some deputies as well, said Cecilia Barreda, public information officer, though she didn't give a reason why some employees could take home cars and others couldn't.

Sullivan said he didn't include on his list public information officers and sheriff's attorneys who are routinely called to crime scenes.

"What we're showing here is that all of these folks — it's pretty much a perk that the sheriff is extending, and the county can't afford it," Sullivan said.

Times staff writer Camille C. Spencer contributed to this report. Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Pasco sheriff's take-home car policy under fire 02/27/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2008 9:16pm]

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