Airing it out with the county sheriff

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Members of the Siesta Key Association spent a couple hours with Kurt Hoffman, sharing concerns and strategies

By John Morton

Law enforcement and code enforcement were the hot topics at the Aug. 4 Siesta Key Association meeting, as Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman addressed the group as the main speaker.

His presence has been requested since several bullets were fired in the Village during a terrifying Memorial Day incident that landed one person in the hospital with a minor injury. Minutes before the shooting, a large fight was reported on the nearby beach.

No arrest has been made yet because people aren’t talking, Hoffman said.

“We know who the shooter was,” he said, “but the folks involved aren’t cooperating, including the young lady who was shot. What we do know it was directed at certain individuals, and not part of an armed robbery or directed at the residents of Siesta Key.

“Just because you haven’t read about an arrest doesn’t mean we didn’t investigate. There’s just been no cooperation.”

On that day, 19 officers were on the Key and eight more responded to the incident, Hoffman said.

Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman. (submitted photo)

“It’s difficult to react to something like this,” Hoffman said of a concealed weapon that is suddenly brandished.

The sheriff was pleased to know that no trouble was reported on the Fourth of July when the Key was again packed with visitors. He said an increase in deputy presence played a role, as did a plan to station them in a more strategic manner.

“Going forward, for major holidays, that will be our plan,” Hoffman said. “What we do know is we’re not going to be able to restrict the number of people coming to the Key.”

Hoffman addressed several issues that Siesta Key Association members submitted in advance. Among them were speeding and racing at the south end of Midnight Pass Road, speeding on Stickney Point Road, the danger involving low-speed vehicles like golf carts, spring break crowds, enforcement of the new loud-music-in-cars ordinance, excessive live-music noise, beach trespassing, trolleys slowing down traffic, underage drinking and fighting, and noise from boats in the canals.

Hoffman listened to audience comments, made note as many concerns, and discussed them to varying degrees.

The car racing that’s occurring down toward Turtle Beach was something he said is “very much on our watch list.”

“We have a zoned car assigned to that area,” he added.

Low-speed vehicle use in that same region was another concern of his, where the speed limit surges to 40 mph at about where the 7-11 is located.

Hoffman said golf carts are limited to areas of 35 mph or less, and that additional signage stating such may be needed. Currently, a small southbound sign where the 40-mph zone begins is all that’s posted.

Residents also noted that golf carts are often driven by youngsters and are overflowing with riders who aren’t wearing any type of restraining equipment. Hoffman said further education with vendors and users is a necessary step.

The speeding on Stickney Point Road was also on his department’s list of roadways in need of monitoring, he said. 

Regarding noise, Hoffman said his deputies have been trained in the operation of sound meters but the enforcement remains a challenge. He said the ordinance that ends live music at 10 p.m. but allows recorded music to continue later is misguided.

“Bend your (county) commissioner’s ear,” he said of the need for a change. “It’s been a decade and a half overdue.”

Meanwhile, the disputes regarding public vs. private beach property is equally tricky for deputies, Hoffman said, noting that the determination of the mean high-water line is beyond difficult. He suggested the use of surveys for those looking to better establish boundaries, followed by additional signage as needed.

The trespass statute requires that there first be a warning for violators, he added, and as a result most incidents are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Hoffman reminded residents that his department added two additional full-time deputies to the Key last year, and applauded the efforts of Sgt. Dan Smith, who this spring took over the lead of the substation at the public beach, for his efforts.

“This is the place where we put people with conflict resolution skills,” Hoffman said. “Dan has that.”

Hoffman, who previously was a county prosecutor before becoming sheriff in January of 2021, reported that crime in Sarasota County has dropped 60 percent since 2009. “We went after the worst of the worst,” he said of the results.

The region’s crime rate is lowest in the state among communities of 1000,000 or more residents, he added.

He also reminded those in attendance that all things considered, Siesta Key residents should feel good about things.

“You’re dealing with issues like golf carts, and not dealing with carjackings and armed robberies,” he said. “You’re living in a very safe place.”

Hoffman also spoke of how societal and social issues have altered the landscape for law enforcement.

“If anyone told me more than 30 years ago when I graduated from the police academy that we’d mostly be dealing with drug addiction and homelessness, I wouldn’t have believed it. Back then, it was pretty much cops and robbers,” he said.

Also, in a moment of levity, he reflected on his history with Siesta Key.

“When I was in high school in Englewood, Siesta Key was the place to be. It’s where I’d come for all the raucous parties,” he said with a laugh. “Well, I’m paying for it now.”

By the numbers

Crime numbers on the Key for June and July were about average and similar, Smith reported.

In June, his department received 405 calls for service, with 29 – or 7% — being personal property crimes. One involved a vehicle theft in which the keys were left inside an unlocked car.

In July, 472 calls were received, with 26 – of 5% — involving personal property crimes. One involved a car theft where the keys were found in a car that was later found in Cape Coral. A second car theft was the result of keys being stolen from the owner while in a tavern.

There was also a case in which a suspect broke through a glass window at a condo and gained entry. 

Fighting the ‘hotel houses’

Illegal short-terms rentals, which locals call “hotel houses,” remain on the radar for code enforcement officer Rick Russ. He reported to the Siesta Key Association that he is working on a handful of cases, two of which would be going before a special magistrate Aug. 19 for an evidentiary hearing. A penalty-phase would follow is the judge decides to move forward.

Excessive trash piles for long periods of time are among the complaints that residents are voicing in regard to illegal short-term rentals. (file photo)

“There’s revolving doors on the houses,” said Russ, who has received complaints that separate rentals are occurring two to three times per month. According to the Key’s zoning code, houses in single-family residential districts cannot be rented more than once per month. 

Noise, trash and over-occupancy are other issues common with the illegal short-term rentals. Russ encouraged residents to continue calling-in complaints as warranted. His cell number is (941) 264-4988 and his email is

A new piece of technology

The entrance into the Village on Ocean Boulevard is now home to a pole that houses a license-plate reader. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office confirmed it was recently installed near the intersection of Gleason Avenue and can serve as a valuable tool in the apprehension of fugitives. It’s part of a countywide study regarding the devices, which are solar powered.

The location is the only one on the Key with the device. 

John Morton
Author: John Morton

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