In 2002, new Largo police Chief Lester Aradi began talking about what he considered an inefficiency in local law enforcement: If one of his officers saw someone breaking the law just over the city boundary in another government's jurisdiction, the Largo officer couldn't do anything about it. Or if a Largo officer happened upon a traffic accident near the city limits, the officer first had to figure out if it was in the city of Largo or another jurisdiction. If it wasn't in Largo, the officer had to wait for another law enforcement agency to arrive.
That didn't make sense to Aradi. He suggested that Largo officers should be able to work an accident scene that happened just over the city line in Pinellas County if the Largo officer arrived first. That suggestion didn't sit well with Sheriff Everett Rice.
Aradi didn't let it rest there. He and Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein began talking about ways the two neighboring cities could cooperate on law enforcement. The two men thought a logical place to begin was along Clearwater-Largo Road, which spanned both jurisdictions and had problems on both ends with drugs and prostitution.
As the two chiefs grew more comfortable with each other, more opportunities to share resources and perspectives arose. Eventually, Aradi wasn't the only one talking about the inefficiencies of law enforcement near jurisdictional boundaries. Aradi and Klein agreed that it made sense for there to be collaboration between the county and Pinellas' 24 cities. They called for a countywide agreement that would allow officers in one jurisdiction to make arrests, write tickets and investigate accidents in an adjoining city or the county.
Sheriff Rice, whose officers also provide law enforcement to a number of small municipalities under special contracts, still balked at the idea of a city's police department enforcing laws in a county neighborhood. So Clearwater and Largo reached their own agreement allowing the officers in one city to enforce the laws in the other. Klein and Aradi continued to lobby for other governments to join.
Now, as cities throughout the county are preparing to sign on, Rice has loosened up and agreed to sign a modified countywide agreement that would allow city police officers to write tickets and investigate accidents on county streets contiguous to a city's boundary. The Sheriff's Office hasn't shown much enthusiasm for the idea, but signing a watered-down agreement is better than not signing at all.
It is a sad fact of life in Pinellas County that "collaboration" sounds too much like "consolidation" to some law enforcement agencies. And for agencies hell-bent on retaining their independence and budgets, "consolidation" is a dirty word.
Congratulations to Aradi and Klein for rising above that kind of parochialism, and for helping others to see the practicality of their common-sense approach. Residents will be more efficiently served, and their neighborhoods will be safer, because of the work of these two public officials.