DUNEDIN — Just two months after southside residents loudly complained about high crime, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and community members say undercover work and increased patrols appear to have abated the problem.
In his first public quarterly report to the Dunedin City Commission, Gualtieri said that between October and December 2012, deputies in south Dunedin issued 218 citations and 624 warrants. That portion of the city also saw:
• 60 percent decrease in residential burglaries.
• 60 percent decrease in batteries.
• 68 percent decrease in thefts.
•43 percent decrease in crashes.
• 42 percent increase in arrests (a product, Gualtieri said, of increased directed patrols, in which deputies walk neighborhoods meeting residents, monitoring activity by unknowns and logging field reports that can later be reviewed if a crime occurs).
Meanwhile, Gualtieri said, the area remains the focus of "significant" undercover activity.
"People need to know there's a lot going on beyond the obvious," he said Thursday. "So those who are out there selling drugs and doing things they shouldn't be doing, think about it. Because the person you're involved with may be working on behalf of law enforcement or a law enforcement officer."
Commissioners' request for quarterly updates grew out of unrest during a November town hall meeting, where frustrated neighbors angrily swapped stories about witnessing drug deals or experiencing home invasions and thefts. Several residents accused deputies of brushing off complaints, being slow to respond to calls or refusing to leave their patrol cars.
Gualtieri vowed then to rectify the problems and pleaded for patience.
Things got off to a rocky start, with the Lyndhurst Neighborhood Watch dissolving two weeks following the meeting after group leader Stacy Rush accused a deputy of aggressive behavior when responding to a call about suspicious activity. Rush told Dunedin Patch that the deputy let the suspects go and yelled that she should stop calling the Sheriff's Office because "you don't know what you're seeing."
However, earlier this month Rush said she and 50 to 60 of her neighbors in a several-block radius had extended an "olive branch" to the Sheriff's Office and were pleased with the response. She told commissioners she appreciated being approached by a watchful deputy as she walked her sick dog at 2 a.m. on Christmas night.
"They've done a fabulous job," echoed Amy Poteet of Lyndhurst Street on Thursday. "They've worked really hard and we've worked with them kind of behind the scenes. And they've done a really good job cleaning up our streets and we appreciate it."
Gualtieri and residents credit the reinstatement of a community policing officer, a position cut to reduce the budget, with having the most impact on area crime. The officer primarily patrols unincorporated Pinellas County between Dunedin's Union Street and Clearwater's Sunset Point Road.
"The crime in that area was having a bleed-over effect into the south Dunedin area," Gualtieri said. Community policing officers "are not just for reacting to situations, but being proactive, getting to know the neighbors, preventing crime from happening and solving problems."
Gualtieri, who said he will try to personally deliver all of Dunedin's quarterly crime reports, expects to have citywide data at the April City Commission meeting.
The department will also speak with the city about partnering in coming months on city-sponsored events, such as public safety workshops during the annual spring Touch-A-Truck event.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.