For two decades, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office has divvied up the sprawling county into four patrol districts.
That changes May 8, when a fifth district goes live.
Patrol District V — the Sheriff's Office uses Roman numerals — includes most of Brandon and the communities of Bloomingdale, Palm River-Clair-Mel, Grant Park, Orient Park and Progress Village.
One of the goals in the change is to shave precious seconds from response times as call volumes increase with projected population booms in eastern and southern Hillsborough, sheriff's Maj. Kyle Robinson said. The move will enable the agency to divide the workload more evenly among deputies in each district and reduce the ground they have to cover, said Robinson, a 22-year veteran of the agency who was tapped by Sheriff David Gee to lead District V.
"The new district is first and foremost to better serve the citizens," he said. "With five districts, the deputies should have to travel less distance and can respond to calls quicker."
At 69 square miles, District V will be the smallest of the four districts. It pulls territory from districts II and IV, which will still be vast at a combined 658 square miles. Those two districts include Riverview, Ruskin and points north of Plant City where the pace of development has bounced back after the Great Recession.
A fifth district will also enable the agency to reduce the ratio of deputies to supervisors on each squad. Currently, there are 13 to 16 deputies per squad, high compared to the national average of about eight, Robinson said. That number will drop to about 11, easing the workload on the sergeants and corporals who supervise them.
"While our supervisors are highly capable and do a good job of managing their people, we can do better if we make strides to lessen the number of subordinates," Robinson said.
The agency analyzed data to come up with the new boundaries, such as calls for service and types and numbers of crimes and arrests. The new district includes some of the higher-crime areas in the county.
"Certainly this is an area with some crime issues, but we staffed the district with an adequate number of detectives, street crimes deputies and patrol deputies to handle those calls for service," Robinson said.
Among the 181 sworn officers assigned to the new district, there are 105 patrol deputies, a dozen street crime deputies and 14 detectives. But those numbers will be fluid.
"The opening of District V is not a finish line," Robinson said. "It's a continual process of looking at statistics to determine if there needs to be more transfers among the districts."
The district headquarters is at 10128 Windhorst Road. The existing substations at 3622 Erindale Drive in Bloomingdale and 7935 Flower Ave. in Progress Village will remain open in the new district.
The change comes as the agency works to bridge a deficit in its ranks. There are currently 209 law enforcement vacancies at the Sheriff's Office, and the goal is to hire 100 deputies each year to stay ahead of attrition and close the gap.
The district came as welcome news for Rilla Henry, who has lived off 78th Street in the Greater Palm River neighborhood for just over four decades.
Crime has increased in the neighborhood over the years, said Henry, who serves as coordinator for Greater Palm River West, a neighborhood watch and beautification group.
"We have two or three schools in the community, and it's a concern for our young people," she said. "Most of us have been out here for a while and we can't afford to go anywhere else. We don't want our neighborhood to go to the dogs, so to speak."
That's why neighbors were glad to hear last year that they would be part of a new district that might mean more deputies closer at hand, "so they can respond when we need them and don't have to come all the way across town," Henry said. We're really grateful for that."
George May, president of the Bloomingdale Homeowners Association, agreed.
The neighborhood of more than 5,000 homes and roughly 23,000 residents sees its share of car burglaries and other crimes. But May said residents were unnerved recently when two suspects knocked on the door of a home on Mallory Point Drive and then fired into the house when the woman said she was calling police. A similar incident happened on Big Pine Drive six minutes later.
"Anything that will help with response times and have more deputies dedicated closer to our area, we're all for," May said.
For Maj. Robinson, leading a new district "exceeds the expectations I had for my career." And he knows his new district well.
Born and raised in Plant City, he joined the Sheriff's Office in 1995 and was assigned to Grant Park and Palm River-Clair Mel as a new deputy and later as a street crimes deputy.
"While some may think of those neighborhoods and think of crime," he said, "I see the good citizens who we're working for, who want a nice, safe neighborhood where they can come out after dark and don't have to lock their doors as soon as the sun goes down."
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.