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CRIME UNIT TO BE DISBANDED

Anticipated budget cuts make the prevention unit look like "a luxury," a spokesman says.

For more than two decades, members of the sheriff's Crime Prevention Unit inspected homes for security, addressed homeowners associations and developed brochures with names like "Burglary Prevention for the Homeowner" and "What You Should Know About Auto Theft."

Those days are about to end.

Sheriff Bob White is disbanding the unit, effective July 30, because he anticipates budget cuts will force him to focus on core law-enforcement operations.

Spokesman Doug Tobin said the five members, all civilians, will have the option of moving to the department's communications division, which handles 911 calls.

White expects county commissioners to trim his $94.7-million budget request, Tobin said Monday. The request includes a 13 percent increase and 109 new positions.

In response, White and his commanders are looking for ways to streamline without affecting law enforcement.

"I guess (the Crime Prevention Unit) could be considered a luxury, based on the budget cuts we could be facing," Tobin said.

The agency will try to compensate by training volunteers from the Citizen Service Unit to do some of the tasks. But Tobin said a diminished role is inevitable.

Among Florida's 67 counties, Pasco's per capita crime rate ranked No. 32 in 2005. It jumped to No. 20 in 2006.

Even as Florida's crime rate reached a 36-year low last year, Pasco's crime rate rose nearly 11 percent. So why was the Crime Prevention Unit a target?

The sheriff has to cut somewhere, Tobin said, and he wants to make sure he has as many people on the front lines - such as patrol deputies and 911 dispatchers - as he possibly can.

Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.

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