Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Sheriff says state doesn't devote enough troopers to Pinellas

Just before rush hour Wednesday, in the aftermath of thunderstorms, two cars collided at Tampa Road and St. Ives Drive in Palm Harbor.

By law, the Florida Highway Patrol should have been the law enforcement agency to handle the crash because its jurisdiction includes state and county roads in unincorporated areas. Instead, deputies from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office worked the crash — because at the time, the Highway Patrol had only three troopers in the county.

It's a situation that happens too often here in the state's most densely populated county, said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who said his agency has been picking up the slack whenever there aren't enough state troopers to work crashes.

Gualtieri and other county leaders plan to ask officials in Tallahassee to do something.

County Administrator Bob LaSala said a letter to state authorities is "in the works."

"It's an ongoing problem," Gualtieri said. "We're not funded for it. We don't have the people for it."

State officials, however, said there is no shortage of troopers. About 25 troopers currently work Pinellas, up from 13 some years ago.

"Certainly we feel like our staffing levels in Pinellas are adequate for the needs right now," said Leslie Palmer, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. "We would all love to see a day when there are no crashes to work. Right now it takes a collaborative effort."

Last year, the Pinellas Sheriff's Office investigated more than 2,000 crashes, data shows. Many of those — officials did not immediately have a breakdown — took place in the Highway Patrol's territory, Gualtieri said.

It is well-known that state troopers handle crashes on interstates in Florida. But because of the law on state and county roads, stretches of roads like U.S. 19 and State Road 580 in Pinellas also fall under the Highway Patrol's jurisdiction.

But Gualtieri said his deputies began working more of those a couple of years ago, after the state got rid of the patrol's community service officers, who handled things like traffic control and fender-benders.

Now, Gualtieri said, his deputies frequently send him reports about being tied up for hours assisting with crashes to which the patrol may send only one trooper, or just handling the crashes by themselves so residents don't wait on the side of the road for hours.

"We had one the other day where the (Highway Patrol) traffic homicide person was coming from Manatee County," Gualtieri said. "What they say is they can't give us what they don't have."

Palmer said the patrol handled 30 percent of all traffic crashes in Pinellas last year. She also said troopers investigated 91 percent of crashes on unincorporated county roads and "the vast majority" of the ones on state roads.

"At the end of the day, it's all about making our roads as safe as possible," Palmer said. "It doesn't really matter who's working them."

Gualtieri disagreed. It costs his department money and resources. He said other counties have taken a tougher approach with the patrol and gotten results.

"Pasco has always taken a hard-line approach to it," he said. "They're not working FHP's crashes."

Highway Patrol officials said they did not immediately have statistics about how many troopers are assigned to Pasco County and other Tampa Bay counties.

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco confirmed that his deputies seldom, if ever, work crashes that fall under the patrol's jurisdiction. At the most, he said, deputies may make sure cars aren't blocking traffic, then instruct drivers to wait for the patrol.

Nocco said his predecessor, former Sheriff Bob White, made it clear his agency wasn't going to do the state's job. "We don't have the resources to take over the responsibility of responding to accidents," Nocco said. "Our citizens understand that."

Gualtieri said Pinellas authorities didn't want residents to suffer.

"I feel like we're kind of being penalized for stepping up to the plate," Gualtieri said. "I think they're putting resources where they're getting the complaints."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

Sheriff says state doesn't devote enough troopers to Pinellas 07/07/13 [Last modified: Sunday, July 7, 2013 8:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Editorial: The unknown price tags in the mayor's race


    St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has been busy promoting all sorts initiatives in the months leading up to the Nov. 7 election, doubling down on his progressive agenda without spending much money or generating much controversy. But make no mistake, the cost will come due after the election. Without a change in …

    The mayor is determined to get artist Janet Echelman to create a sculpture for the new Pier. But the cost would be much higher than what is allocated. Above is Echelman’s As If It Were Already Here in Boston.
  2. Massachusetts firm buys Tampa's Element apartment tower

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Downtown Tampa's Element apartment tower sold this week to a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company that plans to upgrade the skyscraper's amenities and operate it long-term as a rental community.

    The Element apartment high-rise at 808 N Franklin St. in downtown Tampa has been sold to a Northland Investment Corp., a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company. JIM DAMASKE  |  Times
  3. Judge won't cut prison term of man who pleads obesity


    TAMPA — A claim of obesity won't shave time off a Tampa man's prison sentence.

    Duane Crithfield and Stephen Donaldson Sr. were sentenced to prison after marketing a fraudulent offshore tax strategy known as a "Business Protection Plan" to medical practices, offering doctors and others coverage against unlikely events such as a kidnapping.
  4. Advocates for charter, public schools argue their cases at education forum


    TAMPA — Advocates of charter schools argued for diversity in education while supporters of traditional public schools charged that state funding is stacked against them during a forum Friday titled "Choices in Education."

    Schools such as Winthrop Charter School deserve greater public support, their operators say, because they offer a choice in education that is popular among parents. Public school advocates say charter and voucher schools represent a double standard in accountability and enrollment. [WILL VRAGOVIC  |  Times]
  5. Editorial: UF shows how to preserve free speech


    The University of Florida was forced to navigate a treacherous terrain of constitutional concerns and public safety this week, all in a glaring public spotlight. In the end, Thursday's appearance by Richard Spencer was a success — as much as an unwelcome visit from a notorious white nationalist can be. The …