In south Brooksville, Hernando County Sheriff's Office outpost is full of potential

Building the Hernando sheriff's community office in south Brooksville wasn't exactly easy.

Sheriff Richard Nugent had to find a lot on Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard within walking distance of most of the neighborhood. He had to find the money — $280,000, most of it seized from drug dealers.

He found computers, used ones from his department. He found television sets, brand-new ones contributed by Walmart.

And he found an architect, Ted Smith, who designed the small yellow office that looks as inviting as a house.

No, it wasn't easy. But then it opened two months ago. And that was the start of the hard part.

As we saw with the Jerome Brown Community Center a decade ago, building a structure is a snap compared to making sure it fulfills its promise.

The office in south Brooksville has to have programs that its mostly low-income neighbors really need. And before it can do that, it has to persuade them to walk through the door.

How tough will that be? Well, consider how many fathers and sons in south Brooksville have been locked up by city police officers and sheriff's deputies. Consider, also, how many residents, fairly or not, think law enforcement officers are there to harass, not to protect.

"A lot of people think just because the Sheriff's Office sign is on the wall, we're setting them up for arrest,'' said the Rev. Clarence Clark, executive director of Shiloh Problem Solvers.

When Nugent announced last fall that Clark's community group would run the office — and that the sheriff's tight budget prevented him from staffing it with even a single deputy — I thought he was bailing just as surely as the contractors who had originally volunteered to build it.

But after visiting Monday, I have to say it all seems to be working pretty well. And for the very first step in any community policing operation, gaining the trust of residents, it may even be for the best.

No, there weren't many people there. Margaret Clark, Clarence's mother, has scheduled computer classes, fitness sessions and social time for seniors every morning between 9 and 11. On Monday, nobody showed.

But it was rainy, for one thing — and still early.

Clark's group didn't get everything up and running until two weeks ago, and I'm sure word will spread on all of the services it offers: access to Career Central's job listings; regular visits from Veterans Affairs to explain benefits; a program called Rapid Rehousing to help find affordable apartments; classes for high school dropouts to earn equivalence diplomas.

That these programs and several more are offered under Shiloh's name is a plus. The group runs a well-established after-school program at nearby Kennedy Park. And, if you want to talk Hernando County roots, Margaret Clark's father worked on Chinsegut Hill, and she and her twin brother were named for its owners, Col. Raymond and Margaret Robins. Clarence Clark grew up on the same south Brooksville street as Jerome Brown.

The drug trade has crippled his old neighborhood. Getting control of it will be at least as beneficial to south Brooksville as any program Shiloh now offers. This tough, tough job can only happen if residents realize that. And for that, eventually, this new office will need deputies.

In south Brooksville, Hernando County Sheriff's Office outpost is full of potential 02/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 2, 2010 8:29pm]

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