I recently did a ride-along with Deputy Jason Shoulta of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office as a requirement of the Leadership Pinellas class of 2010.
A year ago I had participated in a 12-week Pinellas County Sheriff's Citizens Academy course consisting of a weekly three-hour focus on many departments and services of the sheriff. On one of those evenings, during a mock felony stop, for the first time I had an inkling of how intense a Pinellas County deputy's profession could be as we approached the trunk of a car stopped at night with tinted windows. So I wasn't exactly looking forward to riding shotgun to watch an officer give tickets and help at accidents. I was in for a wake-up.
Shoulta and I started out early in the evening with some domestic calls and backup for officers already on scene. Within two hours, we were heading to a location where a stabbing suspect was supposed to be hiding.
With the "Eagle" (the Sheriff's Office helicopter) joining overhead, we pulled up to the suspect's possible location as more officers arrived. I stayed in the car as Shoulta and other officers ran around a building.
He later came back breathing heavily and said he and his partners found the armed suspect in a closet. He said they drew their handguns because the suspect had a knife, they couldn't see his hands and he wasn't coming out. Fortunately, they were able to arrest the suspect.
For Shoulta, these adrenaline-intensifying moments are part of the job every day.
We had a chance to get a bite to eat and went back on the road.
I asked Shoulta what he looks for when not on a call. At that moment he pointed out a car. A second later, the same car sped away, eluding the deputy's lights and sirens. My heart was pumping and I couldn't imagine going through this day after day.
As I sat in the front seat, Shoulta stepped out of the patrol car and walked toward the suspect with his hand over his handgun. I thought, "This is real, not TV." It was just the deputy and the suspect, as back-up was still on the way.
The car was not registered. The driver was intoxicated, had a suspended license and there were outstanding warrants for his arrest.
After a few more calls that night, I was more than ready to go home. That was enough excitement for me.
This was one ride-along, with one Pinellas County sheriff's deputy, on one night. I walked away realizing the Sheriff's Office is really a family. Remember that we are a major component of that family next time you see those lights and hear that siren.
Most of us in North Pinellas County don't see and therefore don't realize all that the Sheriff's Office does for us because we just don't see it.
They do more than write speeding tickets and block traffic for bike races. First and foremost, they protect us.
Sincerest thanks to these professionals for giving us another reason to be proud of Pinellas County.
Ron Schultz lives in Palm Harbor.