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Sheriff needs money to settle battle of the ages

It probably came as a shock to Pasco County Sheriff's Office spokesman Kevin Doll last week when I introduced myself, joking, "I'm from the St. Petersburg Times and I'm here to help you."

This newspaper, editorially and sometimes with my help, is sometimes, ahem, critical of Pasco Sheriff Lee Cannon and his administration.

No apologies for that. The people of this county give Cannon a lot of money and, by definition of his office, a lot of power. We are also often, it should be noted, supportive of Cannon when he does things right. And on one issue, it is, for me, one of those times.

Cannon was appearing before the Pasco County Commission during an annual budget session _ the governmental equivalent of those steel-cage, tag-team, no-holds-barred death matches that they advertise on late night UHF television for dweebs who don't have real lives, or er so I'm told.

As usual, Cannon cited rising crime and staffing problems and asked for an obscene amount of money, and the commission, posing as protectors of the public purse strings, made noises about top-heavy management and cost control. Traditionally, both sides rattle their lawyer-sabres, the commission gives Cannon a slightly less obscene amount of money and, predictions aside, Crips and Bloods and the Mafia do not wind up occupying the courthouse and selling crack out of the vending machines.

So we all reach for the proverbial massive salt grain when the process starts. But when Cannon brought up more instances of crime resulting from "lifestyle conflicts" between young and old, I suspect he hit the mark.

The problem is, such problems are hard to quantify.

There is no specific offense classification for lifestyle conflicts, so a variety of offense reports spring from that issue.

A lot of it, said Cannon's administrative assistant, Harold Sample, has to do with the design of the subdivisions. "As young people move in and older people move out or pass on," said Sample, "you have these narrow lots, small streets, minimal lawns and almost zero clearance between houses."

"Suddenly," he said, "you have a kid with his car parked across his lawn next to an elderly person who spends three days a week working on his. The result is conflict."

Most of the complaints are nuisance complaints: loud music, reckless driving, illegal parking, verbal assaults.

But each of those complaints can tie a deputy up for an hour or more, and ignoring them can result in a simple neighborhood squabble escalating into murder and mayhem.

Most of the instances of aggressive driving and road rage I have seen have been age-related, and I would be lying if I said that in my younger and less patient days I was never on the politically incorrect side of some of that behavior.

And I have now been on both sides of the divide.

I came here at 29 as a young smart aleck who used to sit around with the other young adults (It seemed like there were about 30 of us) and complain about people who were then the age we are now. Not long after that, it seemed, people were starting to call me "sir" and steer me toward the Easy Listening section of record stores.

Now I get the senior discount automatically at Shoney's, usually after having some moron with his hat on backward laying on the horn as I slowed to turn in to the lot and screaming "drive it or park it, you old ," followed by a list of colorful but uncreative obscenities.

I think Cannon probably does need some more money (if not the whole $50-million he is asking for) and that the age-related problems he cites are probably a good part of the reason.

But it's a problem that needs to be addressed in a lot of other ways _ through public education for instance.

Maybe the county commission could spare a couple of those billboards they want to do away with and have a couple reminding some of us that we were once young, and some of us that we won't always be.