The highs and lows this week across Tampa Bay and Florida
Police step up, (our) top teacher in Florida, paging the governor and saving lives.
Florida Highway Patrol Sergeant Steve Gaskins walks on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on Wednesday where a new suicide prevention barrier has been completed.
Florida Highway Patrol Sergeant Steve Gaskins walks on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on Wednesday where a new suicide prevention barrier has been completed. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jul. 24

A safer Skyway. The steel netting that lines the sides of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge seem to be doing the job. A suicide in January is the only one reported on the Skyway this year, far lower than the number of tragedies that typically occur by July. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Tony Marrero reports, officials are giving some credit to the recently completed suicide prevention barrier. Sought for decades by some public officials and loved ones of victims, the diamond-patterned netting resembles chicken wire, creating an obstacle nearly 11 feet high along the northbound and southbound spans. Critics had panned the idea as a waste of money and a visual blight on the sweeping water views. But you can see the water just fine.

An appeal on shootings. Nobody’s sure what’s behind the rash of shootings across the Tampa Bay area and Florida this year. Drugs? Domestic violence? Economic troubles or isolation anxiety brought on by the pandemic? Whatever the causes, law enforcement agencies across the region are doing a public service by calling attention to the spike. This week, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announced he had created a new Gunfire Response Investigations Team, or GRIT. The unit will focus on investigating and apprehending those involved in non-fatal shootings. Homicide investigators will continue to handle fatal shootings. The unit could be a valuable tool in tracking weapons used in a range of crimes, and it could build relationships in communities plagued by gun violence by working with survivors to prosecute those responsible. The sheriff’s announcement comes as law enforcement agencies across the region have amplified their plea for the public’s assistance in curbing shootings. Secure your weapons. Lock your vehicles. Cooperate with law enforcement. Even the simplest steps will make a difference.

Florida’s best teacher (our own). Sarah Ann Painter, a fifth-grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary in Clearwater, was named Florida’s Teacher of the Year on Thursday. It’s a credit to her, her family and her students, and a point of pride for the Pinellas County School District. Painter was one of five finalists who emerged as the top choice in their districts. An 18-year veteran of the Pinellas school system, she thanked her husband, Leo, and their six children, “who have sacrificed alongside me for the greater good of the students.” Painter’s principal hailed her for her passion, energy and high expectations, and for reliably helping low-performing students improve their academics and confidence. Painter used the awards ceremony to talk about the last school year. “Instead of thinking of what COVID has taken away from us,” she said, “let’s choose to look at it as what COVID has given.” For Painter, that’s been a new way to connect with students and families, a new awareness of mental health and a new perspective from which to teach. She is a reminder: We’ve all been shaped by that one unforgettable teacher.

Memo to the governor: Braggadocio doesn’t work against COVID-19. With Florida leading a new surge nationwide in the number of new infections, Ron DeSantis is playing politics, threatening to call the Legislature back to Tallahassee to fight mask mandates and lockdowns. Instead of fighting battles that don’t exist, why doesn’t DeSantis confront the real threat that hesitant Floridians — including many of his fellow Republicans — pose to themselves and the rest of us by holding back from getting the vaccine. Florida’s inoculation rate ranks it 22nd in the country, even though the shots are free, safe and have been widely available for months. While he’s at it, the governor should also restore the more timely reporting of COVID cases in Florida. The people he’s sworn to protect are entitled to know how the pandemic is faring in Florida. Short answer: Not great. And the outlook’s getting worse.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.