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    Clearwater and Largo police will share turfs

    In a first for departments in the county, the police chiefs will enter into an accord today giving officers authority in both cities.

    By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 1, 2003

    The police chiefs of Largo and Clearwater will sign an accord today giving their police officers the ability to enforce laws in both cities.

    The mutual aid agreement will be the first of its kind in Pinellas County and, perhaps, in the state. The accord will be signed at a ceremony this morning that will include police demonstrations and refreshments. The event, which starts at 10 a.m. and goes to noon, will be held at the Bank of America on S Missouri Avenue at Belleair Road.

    "It will be an opportunity for citizens to come out, to look, to touch, to kick the tires and pet the dogs and talk to the chiefs as well as the mayors and city managers," Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein said.

    The idea of a mutual aid agreement was hatched by Largo police Chief Lester Aradi, who became frustrated by Pinellas County's jurisdictional jigsaw puzzle when he was hired two years ago.

    Though there is an agreement allowing police officers to respond to felonies-in-progress that they may encounter anywhere in the county, it does not apply to traffic crashes or tickets. If a police officer from Tarpon Springs sees a motorist blatantly run a red light in Treasure Island, for instance, there is nothing the officer can do.

    Aradi also was frustrated that his officers often had to stand by for hours with motorists involved in traffic crashes just outside the city, waiting for Florida Highway Patrol troopers to arrive. Aradi craved an agreement that would let his officers write a simple ticket or crash report and get back to work.

    The problem is exacerbated by Pinellas County's municipal makeup, with city boundaries that squiggle like a child's doodling. Several cities also have county enclaves within their borders, some only a few blocks in size.

    Klein was receptive to Aradi's idea, as were other police chiefs. Aradi and Klein had hoped that Sheriff Everett Rice also would like the idea, but Rice balked, saying county law enforcement is confusing enough as it is. Rice said that if he were to sign the agreement, it would create a "confusion of authority and responsibility."

    Aradi and Klein were disappointed by the sheriff's decision but pursued their own agreement.

    "This is kind of a landmark thing for Pinellas County," said Largo Deputy Chief John Carroll. "It's going to be nice seeing the departments working together."

    Police administrators in Pinellas Park and Belleair also are considering signing a mutual aid agreement with Largo.

    "It truly is going to enable law enforcement to extend our jurisdictional hands across each other's borders," Klein said.

    "We hope it sets a precedent for other law enforcement agencies to follow."

    -- Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or .

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