During the January 7th Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Sgt. Arik Smith, who leads the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key — noted that the department recorded 372 calls for service for the month of December 2020. Nineteen of them, or about 5%, were of the more serious nature that the FBI used to classify as “Part 1” crimes, he said.
A new standard for reporting crimes to the federal government has gone into effect, Smith explained. In the past, law enforcement agencies provided data for what was called the Uniform Crime Report. That has been replaced by the National Incident Based Reporting System, or the NIBRS. “Law enforcement officials are big on acronyms,” he added.
The new system is more inclusive than the Uniform Crime Report, Smith pointed out. As a result, he continued, crime statistics for some areas might go up. However, Smith said, “It really doesn’t affect us too much [on the Key],” given the nature of most of the offense’s officers handle there.
The NIBRS website says the system “captures details on each single crime incident — as well as on separate offenses within the same incident — including information on victims, known offenders, relationships between victims and offenders, arrestees, and property involved in crimes.”
Over the past couple of years, the percentage of the more serious crimes on the Key each month consistently has been in the 4% range, out of total number of calls, Smith told the SKA members.
In regard to December 2020 incidents: Smith reported that someone broke into one vehicle that was unlocked and left unattended. “Again,” Smith stressed, “lock your cars.”
A couple of residential burglaries were reported, too, he noted. In those cases, persons left their garage doors open. As with vehicles, Smith urged SKA members not to leave their homes unlocked and unattended, because those situations invite “crimes of opportunity.” The latter could be eliminated, he pointed out, if people were careful about locking up behind themselves.
One set of noteworthy incidents in December, he continued, involved vandalism and burglaries at lifeguard stands on Siesta Public Beach. He said he believed those crimes were related to the influx of visitors on the Key during the holiday season. The incidents occurred two or three nights in a row, he added, at different stands. Not only were items taken, Smith pointed out, but things were moved around inside the stands.
“We’ve put some extra patrols out there at night,” he noted, in an effort to prevent similar crimes.
This is not the first time the Sheriff’s Office has dealt with burglaries involving lifeguard stands, he told the SKA members.
No dogs on the beach, please
Sgt. Arik Smith reprised comments he has made from time to time.
“The Sheriff’s Office does not take lightly [reports of dogs on the beach],” he stressed. “There’s no lax behavior on our part. … We try to approach every single person we see,” he said, who has brought an animal onto the beach to let the individual know that a county ordinance forbids such action. Only service dogs are allowed on the beaches, he added.
Even then, Smith said, a service animal “needs to be under control and on a leash and with the owner, unless that animal is performing its service. Then it can go off-leash.”
He had talked with SKA President Catherine Luckner prior to the meeting that evening, Smith noted, indicating that she had asked him to remind everyone about the county regulations.
“If you see people on the beach, please call us. That’s what we’re here for,” Smith told the SKA members. “Don’t feel like it’s a nuisance to us.”
Smith did ask that persons report dogs on the beach by calling the Sheriff’s Office’s non-emergency number, which is 941-316-1201.
That is the best way to reach an officer for a timely response, Smith said.
Earlier that week, he noted, he had heard Gov. Ron DeSantis talking about how “people are flooding into Florida,” because the state does not have the COVID-19 visitor restrictions that have been put in place in many other areas.
Further, Smith noted, “Our home sales … are rising through the roof.”
Both situations, he continued, appear to be leading to more people on the beach in Sarasota County.
Moreover, “I think there’s a huge learning curve,” he added, for visitors and new residents in terms of becoming familiar with Sarasota County laws, which is why more dogs have been showing up on the beach.
Again, Smith told the SKA members, “If you see [a dog], please call us. … That’s what we’re here for.”
Helping the homeless
A member asked substation leader Sgt. Arik Smith, “Do we have any kind of regulations about homeless [persons]? A lot … are coming into the Village.”
The speaker inquired whether the Sheriff’s Office could prevent that from becoming “a real issue.”
“It’s not against the law to be homeless,” Smith responded. However, he continued, county regulations do prohibit sleeping and camping out of doors in many areas.
A couple of years ago, Smith continued, then-Sheriff Tom Knight — with the support of the County Commission — implemented a Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), which includes four or five deputies and three or four civilian case workers. The HOT members try to reach out to homeless individuals, Smith said, to help those persons get into emergency shelter facilities and, eventually, housing. “That’s their main goal,” he added of the team members.
“If you do see some homeless people around,” Smith told the SKA members, “more often than not, we’ve spoken with them” and worked to put the HOT officers and case workers in touch with them.