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Neighborhood news

200 parks a tad more tame, thanks to 2 guys

By JACKIE RIPLEY
Published March 16, 2007


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Hillsborough County sheriff's Deputy Roy Johnson has put a dent in illegal hunting.

Deputy Dean Cary has stopped trespassers from cutting cypress and oaks for bonfires.

While Cary and Johnson aren't law enforcement partners in the traditional sense, they are allies in a new program the parks department hopes will make county parks safer to go to.

"Our parks are used tremendously," said Peter Fowler, a division manager for Parks, Recreation and Conservation. "We're overwhelmed with the need to provide a good, safe environment."

That's why the parks department has joined with the Sheriff's Office to create a program that puts two deputies on county park detail full time. Their beats take in all of Hillsborough County's 200 parks, from the sprawling, 1,280-acre Edward Medard Park near Plant City to the nature trails in Thonotosassa's Wilderness Park.

Cary, 44, spent 11 years on traffic detail before his new assignment. He's now responsible for all the parks north of Interstate 4. Johnson, 30, comes from the department's patrol division and covers parks south of I-4.

But how and when they patrol their beat is anybody's guess.

Cary might show up one day in uniform behind the wheel of a cruiser or an all-terrain vehicle.

Johnson, on another day, might pop up in plain clothes on foot or on a bicycle.

"It's a big area. We're not restricted to any one zone and the duties are varied," Johnson said.

Those duties cover infractions of any kind, from graffiti and public drunkenness to trespassing and poaching.

"You're dealing with juveniles and adults and criminal mischief," said Sgt. Wayne New, the pair's supervisor. "It's the same kinds of activities that go on anyplace."

Having only two deputies assigned to cover all the county's parks might not seem like a lot of firepower. But officials say it's a step in the right direction.

"We've always worked closely with the Sheriff's Office, but we've not always been a top priority," Fowler said. "This is good because Deputies Cary and Johnson know what parks wants."

The new program gives the parks department two deputies well versed not only in the law but in park regulations.

For instance, a local ROTC unit showed up at Flatwoods Park in New Tampa for practice once. Unaware that firearms are prohibited in public parks, they came armed for bear.

"They had all this firepower," Cary said. "We had to shut them down."

Then there was the time Johnson dismantled hog traps, tree stands and cameras that hunters had illegally placed in the wilderness preserves at New Cypress Creek.

It's dog parks, though, that rise to the top of both deputies' list of sticky wickets. The most serious calls occur, they said, when dogs decide to tangle.

Other times Cary and Johnson do as much teaching as law enforcement, especially when it comes to showing people ways to enjoy, without harming, the plant and animal life abundant in county parks.

"It gives us an opportunity to work with the public that might not know they are violating the rules," Johnson said. "It's an opportunity to educate them."

Jackie Ripley can be reached at ripley@sptimes.com or at 813 269-5308.

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 07:27:08]


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