Where do most 911 calls originate on the Key?
It probably came as no surprise to members attending the September Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting that the highest number of 911 calls the Sheriff’s Office receives on the Key are generated at the public beach.
That was just one fact of the report that Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the island, presented to the members.
In August, he said, the Sheriff’s Office received 118 calls originating at 948 Beach Road, the official address for Siesta Public Beach.
“It’s where the most people are,” he pointed out; thus, it is the place where human interactions are most likely to occur on the island.
SKA President Catherine Luckner had asked him to research “the hot areas” on the Key for people making 911 calls, he explained.
In second place behind the public beach, he continued, is Beach Access 1, on North Shell Road, on the northern end of the island. However, as he pointed out, there was “quite a bit of drop” from the total number of calls originating at the public beach to those from Access 1 in August. The latter count, he added, was 19.
Ten calls came from people at Turtle Beach, Smith said, and the rest were from scattered locations, generally from Siesta Village and neighborhoods. The total number of those calls, he noted, was 57.
Altogether in August, Smith reported, the Sheriff’s Office received 287 calls for service on the island. Only 4% of those involved Part 1 crimes, he pointed out, adding that those are considered the most serious. They include all types of thefts, sexual assaults, burglaries and battery cases, he noted.
Among those calls, he continued, “We had three vehicle burglaries.”
“I know Sgt. [Paul] Cernansky used to harp on this a lot,” Smith continued, referring to the previous substation leader. “Those [incidents] are almost 100% preventable by locking your car doors.” If vehicle doors are locked, Smith said, 99% of the time, that prevents a perpetrator from proceeding with an effort to get anything out of the vehicle.
Referring to the August cases, he added, “Those were unlocked cars.”
The Sheriff’s Office did record one theft of a vehicle in August from the Municipal Lot in Siesta Village, he continued. A couple of other cases involved thefts of liquor from convenience stores, Smith added.
In concluding his report, Smith told the members, “We had a very eventful summer.” With school back in session, he said, things should be slowing down. The Sheriff’s Office already is preparing for the holidays, he noted.
More consternation about Access 2
After Sgt. Arik Smith concluded his report to the Siesta Key Association members on Sept. 5, audience members peppered him with questions about vehicles at Beach Access 2.
“I know people aren’t supposed to park [at Access 2],” one woman told Smith, but she continues to see vehicles there.
The access, which is at the western end of Avenida Messina, just outside Siesta Village, long has been known as Sunset Point.
To park legally on a street in that area, which is the Mira Mar District, Smith explained, a person has to have a county permit. At Access 2, only one parking spot is provided, and that is for handicapped access to the beach.
He stressed that multiple county signs stand at the access, clearly warning the public that parking is not permitted except in that handicapped space. “We try to enforce that [no parking provision] as much as we can.”
“Most people aren’t there trying to commit crimes,” Smith continued. A lot of people drive down to the access to unload items they want with them on the beach and, in similar fashion, to load up those items after they have spent time on the beach, he pointed out.
“The main thing [for the Sheriff’s Office is to educate people [about the parking prohibition] and keep ’em out of there,” Smith said.
The woman then emphasized that every time she goes down to the access, “There’s multiple cars [parked].”
Smith acknowledged that he and his officers routinely see the same situation. “We write tickets and … move them on.”
As he understood it, Smith continued, the parking issue has been going on for decades at Access 2 — primarily, he stressed, because that is one of the few spots in the county where the road actually dead-ends at the beach. “It’s a very easy access for people.”
Again, Smith told the SKA members, “We do our best to educate people and enforce the parking laws there. … We direct people to the public beach.”
The continuing issue of dogs on the beach
Sgt. Arik Smith also handled numerous questions about dogs on the beach when he appeared before SKA members at their regular meeting.
Dr. Stephen Lexow said he sees a man walking a dog most mornings on Turtle Beach. Lexow finally told the man one recent day that dogs are not allowed on the beach, Lexow added. The man’s response, Lexow said, was that the dog is a service dog for emotional problems.
“Is that legit?” Lexow asked Smith.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website has a list of all the service animals considered legitimate, Smith explained. “We’re not allowed to kick … people [with those animals] off the beach.” Deputies can ask what type of service animal the dog is, Smith added.
“Emotional support animals are not considered by ADA to be a service animal,” Smith pointed out, so deputies can tell people with such animals that they are not allowed on the beach, according to county regulations.
In response to another question, Smith said that people with legitimate service dogs can let those dogs defecate or urinate on the beach. However, he emphasized, the person with the dog must pick up any waste.
A second woman in the audience complained about a person who routinely takes a dog onto a different part of the beach, even though the dog is not a legitimate service animal, according to the ADA website.
“I know,” Smith replied, telling her, “We’ve had this conversation.”
“If it’s not a service animal,” Smith said again, “they’re not allowed on the beach.”
Over the years, SKA President Catherine Luckner pointed out, members of the nonprofit have educated a lot of visitors about the county ordinance prohibiting dogs on the beach. Additionally, she said, the SKA has asked condominium associations that rent units to tourists to hand out flyers with details about the applicable county ordinance, which includes a number of other restrictions involving the beach.
Usually, Luckner continued, when a visitor learns that dogs are not allowed on the beach, they will leave.
Smith responded that that has been the experience of Sheriff’s Office deputies, as well. “The majority of the people,” he added, are surprised. “[Visitors will] pack up all their stuff,” he continued, and then leave with the dog. They will return to the beach later by themselves, he added.
An earlier speaker in the audience complained that the county’s signs listing restrictions regarding the beach are about the size of “Post-It” notes.
Smith replied that Sheriff’s Office representatives have talked with county Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) staff about that very issue.
About seven years ago, PRNR staff pursued an initiative that entailed removing an abundance of signs at the beach accesses and then erecting smaller, solitary signs that point out the county restrictions. The goal, as staff characterized it at the time, was to cut down on “sign pollution.”
As Smith wrapped up the question-and-answer part of his remarks, Luckner told him, “We don’t realize what all you have to do out there every day … at all hours.”
Smith then said that the SKA directors know how to reach him if any issue comes up. “Please let me know any questions you have.”
About the sergeant himself
When Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Siesta Key Sheriff’s Office substation, began his presentation to SKA members, he said he considered the meeting his first real one since he was appointed to the position in May.
Previous substation leader Paul Cernansky — who was promoted from sergeant to lieutenant in April — introduced Smith as his replacement during that meeting.
However, because of conflicts in Smith’s schedule — and the fact that the SKA has no July meeting — the September session was what Smith called his “first real meeting” with the nonprofit’s members.
As a result, he said he wanted to formally introduce himself to the members.
After he joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2006, he noted, he spent two years with the Patrol Division and then two years with the Tactical Unit. In his next assignment, he continued, he spent six years working undercover with the Narcotics Division.
Following a promotion, he added, he again was assigned to the Patrol Division.
“And now I’m here, living life happy ever since [May],” he told the audience.
“How did you work undercover?!” SKA member Bob Waechter asked Smith.
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