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CUTBACKS IN POLICE PUT THE CITY AT RISK

Over the years, Largo has annexed property without a commensurate increase in the staffing level of the Police Department. Because of this approach, Largo officers have had to become less proactive and more reactive in their enforcement activities.

Policing will become even more dangerous beginning in October, now that commissioners want each Largo police officer and dispatcher to take nine furlough days during the next fiscal year. This is alarming in light of the fact that the city has the funds available to avoid imposing furloughs.

I have worked for the Largo Police Department for more than 22 years and am currently assigned as a patrol officer. My area of responsibility over the last 12 years has been, for the most part, the area north of Eighth Avenue SW, including the Old Northwest section of Largo. Many of the annexations over the last 12 years have been on the eastern side of the city, although some of those were in my area of responsibility. Some of these properties, including No Go Largo Mobile Home Park and Clearwater Trailer City, caused a major increase in the number of calls.

I remember the times before the large number of annexations when I had time to engage in proactive law enforcement. It was common for me to be able to get out of my cruiser and walk through Wal-Mart and Publix to deter shoplifters or purse snatchers. I remember hearing from employees about how glad they were to see me walking through their store.

It was common for me to be able to conduct traffic enforcement to protect the responsible drivers from those who endangered others. I was also able to conduct bicycle patrol on a weekly basis. These and other activities performed by me and my co-workers have been reduced by having to police a larger city without a commensurate increase in police officers.

These days, it is not unusual for me or one of my co-workers to be the sole police officer responsible for handling calls for service in an entire sector. This is one of the ingredients in a recipe for disaster. Remember Belleair police Officer Jeffery Tackett, who died as a result of not having a backup officer nearby.

As time passed and annexations without appropriate increases in staffing levels continued, I kept doing my job as best I could without vocalizing publicly the negative effect on services. The announcement that furloughs were being considered was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. To paraphrase: I am mad as hell, and I'm not going to be quiet anymore. When I informed friends that it was not unusual for 12 to 14 day-shift officers to be assigned to handle calls for service in this city of approximately 76,000 people, they were shocked. I venture to say that when this is more widely known, the reactions of those who rely on police protection in the city will be similar.

I consider police protection a necessity and believe that in lean times, it cannot afford to be reduced. If the city is having difficulty maintaining a fiscally sound budget, it should consider cutbacks of non-essential services and projects, not those necessary for a safe community.

If furloughs are imposed, I have major concerns for the safety of people in Largo, including those responsible for enforcing the law. As a Largo police officer, I am angry that the city has made my job more dangerous just to save money. Up to this moment, there have been no major repercussions, but I fear tragedy may be just around the corner. If this comes to be, I wonder if commissioners would conclude that the cost savings would be worth what has been done?

Finally, I think that if residents of Largo had the option of voting for better protection for themselves and their police officers, the majority would support those on the commission who want to protect them.

Michael Kirkpatrick,Largo

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Re: Notary suspended for 3 days - story, Sept. 13

Rules aren't equal in Largo politics

Why a double standard? Would-be candidate Bob Jackson and city notary Donna Givens did something wrong, and now he can't run for mayor because he didn't follow the letter of the law and she gets suspended for the same thing.

But City Clerk Diane Bruner and Mayor Pat Gerard admit they routinely break the same law and they get rewarded. Ms. Gerard doesn't have any competition for re-election, and Largo citizens have no choice in that election and no say-so on important matters like raising taxes.

It's almost like Chicago was back in the '60s.

Steve Trizis,Largo

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Use some sense in posting mug shots

My mug shot was shown on the St. Petersburg Times Web site. I responded to an arrest warrant created by my failure to appear regarding watering my lawn on the wrong day. Subsequently, an arrest warrant was created for this grave watering infraction. So, let me recount this affair.

First, I am not up at midnight to 4 a.m. to monitor if my timer has malfunctioned or not. So after 19 years of watering manually at 6 p.m., I now have been arrested because I purchased a timer and set it wrong.

First, a person leaves a notice on my door in the middle of the night. Next a process server serves me with notice I need to appear someplace but does not explain to me it is a regular court and I can be pursued if I do not appear. I happened to be sick with a sinus infection on that date.

Next the Pinellas County court issues an arrest warrant for me. Now I have to turn myself in at the jail, get fingerprinted and have a mugshot taken for watering my lawn on the wrong day with a faulty timer.

So then, the best part is you put my picture on the front page of your Web site. Thank you very much. Maybe you should screen the criminals that you are putting on your site.

Stephen Celmer,Seminole

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Florida experience isn't in a high-rise

Regarding the building of tall hotels on Clearwater Beach, developers should know that not only do the owners of small hotels and beach cottages resent them, but so do the local folks who have patronized them. People who vacation locally want a "real Florida" experience, not some high-rise resort where you simply cannot experience the relaxation of the beach. We are blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, so why not enjoy them naturally?

My family has vacationed at these wonderful mom and pop places on the beach for years and will continue to do so. We are certain there are countless others who will as well.

Anne Cruise,Clearwater

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