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Pinellas' top cops take turns patrolling the streets

The black Chevy Tahoe with flashing blue and red lights followed Jacqueline Ferrarini as she barreled south on 34th Street N at 75 mph.

Despite the sirens and lights in her rearview mirror, Ferrarini, 47, kept driving the Chevy Camaro and only stopped when she entered a dead-end parking lot.

The driver's door of the Tahoe opened and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri emerged. Other deputies soon arrived and arrested Ferrarini on several charges, including fleeing and eluding, and drug paraphernalia possession.

"Defendant refused to exit her vehicle," Gualtieri later wrote in Ferrarini's arrest affidavit in August, "and resisted law enforcement officers' efforts to take her into custody."

Since becoming sheriff in 2011, Gualtieri has been going out on patrol in his unmarked Sheriff's Office Chevy, backing up deputies on calls and writing traffic tickets.

He is not the only top cop patrolling the streets of Pinellas.

St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway recently conducted surveillance during a prostitution sting and patrolled 16th Street S to talk to residents, a community policing strategy he calls, "park, walk and talk."

Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter responded to a bank last month after receiving a report about an armed man that turned out to be a security guard.

"It's a mental health break for me," Slaughter said, adding, "you experience what the officers experience. You can find what needs to change."

Gualtieri said he goes on patrol about three times a month, typically between 3 p.m. and midnight Saturdays.

"It got some eyes wide open," Gualtieri said about his initial patrols. "A lot of people were like, 'Okay, what's this all about?' "

He likes going out because "it's a fun job." Patrolling has other benefits, too. Gualtieri tightened the agency's pursuit policy this year when he noticed some deputies started chases for minor offenses. When he learned that the warrants system malfunctioned recently, a backup program was created.

"It keeps you in touch with what's going on," he said. "It gives me a good perspective as far as sitting in the office and making decisions."

On a recent Saturday, Gualtieri stared out into traffic, occasionally running license plates on his laptop. A pair of handcuffs dangled near the steering wheel.

He was headed to St. Pete Beach to check on the crew for the TV show Cops, which is filming his deputies for the next two months. On his way there, a faded red Toyota Celica began weaving in and out of traffic in front of him. The driver wasn't wearing a seat belt.

Gualtieri radioed dispatch, identified himself as "CAR1", and advised he was about to make a traffic stop.

The Toyota pulled into a neighborhood near Park Street. Gualtieri slowly walked over, a notebook tucked into his back pocket.

"Hey, how are you doing?" he asked the woman.

"No seat belt," she admitted.

"No seat belt," he replied. "You're right."

He asked why she changed lanes several times. She said she was applying mascara, then putting the bottle away.

Gualtieri took her license and registration to check them on his laptop. Both were valid.

"Be careful driving," he told the woman as he returned her documents. "Especially as you're going back and forth with the mascara thing."

She left with a written warning.

Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com or (727)445-4157. Follow @lauracmorel.

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