The Pasco County Sheriff's Office isn't alone in providing unmarked, take-home cars to civilian employees. Law enforcement agencies throughout the Tampa Bay area extend the benefit to certain employees, to varying degrees.
In Pasco, a candidate running against Sheriff Bob White says 54 workers — mainly jail and administrative staffers who don't respond to emergencies — have personally assigned, unmarked agency cars that they can use off duty and fill up at county gas pumps.
Some of the employees included in candidate Robert Sullivan's list are the directors of human resources and finance, a computer trainer and a part-time member of the sheriff's mounted posse.
Sullivan calls the cars "perks" and says they cost taxpayers more than $220,000 a year.
In a brief statement Thursday night, White defended his agency but did not provide any details about who has a take-home car and why.
"I am proud of the fiscal discipline our office practices. Our office is open and transparent and always available for review," White wrote in an e-mail to the Pasco Times. "However, I want the employees of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office focused on protecting and serving the residents of Pasco County, not on spending their time collecting data to respond to baseless allegations leveled by my opponent."
At the low end, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has six agency cars assigned to civilian employees, spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said. That's after 147 vehicles were pulled off the road last fall to save money.
"It was determined there were some areas where cars could be recovered and pool cars established," Pasha said. "These are essentially for folks who are not necessarily responding on an on-call basis but whose positions require a lot of travel on a daily basis."
Those who still have cars are Pasha and another public information officer, the medical director, the Police Athletic League coordinator, the director of a program for women leaving jail and the forensics manager who responds to crime scenes.
No heads of departments, such as human resources or finance, have take-home cars, Pasha said.
In Hernando County, the number of civilian take-home cars is eight, and the list of those who have them includes a victim advocate, a process server and the director of communications for all police and fire activity.
"Their jobs necessitate them having take-home vehicles. The necessity of having them respond to scenes or events requires their assistance," spokeswoman Donna Black said.
At the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, 42 civilian employees have take-home cars, spokeswoman Debbie Carter said. They include the head of the information technology department, crime scene technicians and the chief legal adviser.
"I can say the majority of the civilians that have take-home cars are on call all the time," Carter said. "You respond to crime scenes. You respond to meetings."
Of the Hillsborough jail's 1,500-member staff, four have take-home cars — the colonel and three majors.
Sullivan says there are 25 Pasco jail staffers with agency cars of their own. They are certified officers, Sullivan said, but not ones who respond to emergencies. They include the deputy who oversees the jail's agricultural project, five corrections lieutenants and two courthouse bailiffs.
"The vehicles driven by these folks absolutely do not forward the mission of public safety," Sullivan said.
He said a better policy would be to pool cars for on-the-job travel and offer mileage reimbursement for more rare occasions when administrators are called in after hours.
In the meantime, Sullivan, who retired from the Sheriff's Office last fall after 24 years, says White is close to implementing a tightening of the take-home policy.
White established the personal-use policy in 2006 that allowed all employees, including uniformed deputies in marked patrol cars, who have take-home cars the benefit of using them for personal business and errands when off-duty.
In the case of deputies, studies show the presence of more cop cars on the street helps deter crime, reduces response time to emergency calls and saves money.
Sullivan says White is about to revoke that personal errand privilege — not from the 54 non-emergency responders, but from patrol deputies.
"Rather than him deal with the sworn officers that have these take-home vehicles, why don't we deal with the civilians that don't impact crime?" Sullivan asked.
Asked whether White plans a change in policy, sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin referred the question to the sheriff, saying he could not answer it "in that (political) context."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6245.