There are many similarities among the cities of Crystal River, Inverness, Brooksville and Dunnellon. They're about the same size, share many of the same problems, and at times even have the same group of drug dealers peddling illegal substances to their citizens.
If Crystal River Police Chief Roger Krieger gets his way, the four cities will have something else in common: They'll all be part of a close-knit network of local police agencies.
The agencies in the network would be able to trade information, officers and equipment more readily, which would create a more effective law enforcement net to catch drug dealers and other crooks, he says.
In recent meetings with Inverness Chief Massey Cook and Brooksville Chief Ed Tincher, Krieger said the networking idea has gained momentum. He intends to meet with the other police chiefs soon.
Krieger said he does not want to see develop in this area the same sort of communication problems he encountered in New York state, a pattern he called the "locked filing cabinet" mentality.
Agencies didn't share information. One department was so secretive about its operations that it kept all its records locked in the memory of one senior officer.
"We've found that in talking to Chief Cook, they're getting the drugs from Dade City and Brooksville. And Brooksville is getting them through Dade City and the Tampa area," Krieger said.
"We get ours out of Ocala primarily, via Chatmire and Dunnellon and we've also been getting some out of Brooksville. There's an interconnection in almost all of these areas."
Krieger said he hopes that by "combining forces and improving our communications," all those agencies can be more effective in stopping the drug flow.
The Crystal River police now have a formal agreement only with the Citrus County Sheriff's Office to share information and personnel.
He said he hopes to have similar pacts with all area police departments at some point. But until then, Krieger just wants to open wider lines of communications so that the various agencies know what each has to offer.
The agencies could swap undercover officers to make drug buys, a critical factor since local drug dealers quickly get to know each department's undercover officers.
The police also could share surveillance equipment or simply swap details of ongoing investigations, Krieger said.
"One of the biggest problems with law enforcement is that they don't share information and don't talk too well to one another," he said. "We all talk, but we don't sit down with our investigators . . . so that information is constantly flowing.
"What this is going to do is take it one step further, maybe two steps further in putting together information."
Brooksville's Chief Tincher agreed.
"We are shackled by these imaginary fences that are our jurisdictions," Tincher said. "Maybe through communication and cooperation, we can better accomplish our goals. Maybe they have a piece that fits into our puzzle."
Krieger said crooks tend to move around quite a bit, so it's likely that other police agencies would have information on many of the same people.
Drugs have been identified as one of the main reasons for much of the youth violence and unrest in Crystal River and the network idea grew in part out of the city's examination of how to deal with those problems.
Krieger said he doesn't see his city having any more severe a problem than other cities the same size. He just thinks his city has been more open about it rather than using what he termed the "large rug-big broom" approach.
"I believe that one of the best tools in fighting drugs is public awareness," he said. "Putting a major spotlight on drug pushers, what's wrong with that?"
And putting that spotlight on all criminal activities occurring within the region by using a police network is the best use of the resources, he said.
"It's really not a tremendously new concept," Krieger said. "But as money gets tighter and the needs get greater . . . it's just good business."