Walk into the office of Sgt. Jim Beebe at the Citrus County Sheriff's Office and you'll see a display of hats from various law enforcement agencies throughout Europe. Beebe and his small staff wear a variety of hats as crime prevention specialists. Their activities range from home security and substance abuse prevention to Officer McGruff the crime dog, Officer Friendly, Operation I.D., Neighborhood Watch and Crime Watch.
Beebe often gives crime prevention talks to church and homeowner groups as well as schools, preschool through 12th grade.
"I have no canned programs," he said. "I custom-build my programs around the audience." Groups requesting a presentation provide a topic such as home security, drug education or fraud, "and I take it from there," he said.
Frequently, last-minute requests for a speaker at a civic or service organization come in and the sergeant "is always willing to jump right in and is always willing to accept the challenges of the assignment," said Gail Tierney, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman.
Beebe, a native Floridian who began his law enforcement career with the Inverness Police Department, joined the Sheriff's Office in 1973 as a jailer/dispatcher.
"In those days that was all one job," he said. "I doubt there were more than five traffic signals in the whole county," he said, reflecting on the county's growth.
After spending eight years as a patrol deputy, Beebe developed a strong interest in crime prevention after studying at the National Crime Prevention Institute.
Today he is regional vice president of the Florida Crime Prevention Association and president of Alumni for the Florida Crime Prevention Training Association.
The sergeant has strong ideas about what it takes to be effective in pro-active police work.
"To work in this unit you've really got to like people ... especially kids," he said. The department has a "Just Say No to Drugs" program for youths, and more than 100 children and about 30 chaperones go on annual AAA Safety Patrol trips to Washington, D.C., and other cities.
"The schools and school programs are really critical," Beebe said. The school resource officers at the middle and high schools are invaluable in providing information on school and extracurricular activities.
The county's Crime Watch program is unique, he said. Qualified volunteers are assigned special Sheriff's Office vehicles equipped with a department radio, amber flashing light and green stripes. The volunteers are trained in proper procedures to follow when on patrol and how to report suspicious activity.
This program, Beebe said, has "significantly reduced the incidence of residential crime in areas populated primarily by older citizens."
Beebe says of older residents' concerns, "I try to dispel fear (of crime) by stressing awareness."
The sergeant said that when older residents do everything to make their homes secure, much of their fear is eliminated.
The Neighborhood Watch program depends on residents reporting any suspicious persons or activity in their neighborhood to authorities without patrolling.
What keeps him motivated? "So many people accept life as it is (with) crime as a way of life. A society where crime is tolerated _ this is not acceptable," he said.
"I couldn't do much as a reactive policeman, write my reports and so on."
But with a focus now on crime prevention, "I've found my niche. I'm just trying to make a difference."