Sheriff's office in Tampa draws a union protest

By ABBIE VANSICKLE, Times Staff Writer
Published October 31, 2007

TAMPA - It was an unusual scene Tuesday morning outside the Hillsborough sheriff's Ybor City headquarters.

On the sidewalk out front, about 20 people representing the West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association stood together.

They held signs that read, "Deputies need your help!" and "Be our 911!"

Nearby, on the steps of the building, stood another group of people that included deputies and leaders of the Sheriff's Office.

The demonstrators in the union group claimed the Sheriff's Office is not working hard enough to solve a staffing shortage and is instead bulking up on high-priced gadgets and a top-heavy management structure.

"There's too many chiefs and not enough Indians," said Jim Spearing, a political consultant from Tallahassee who spoke to reporters on behalf of the union group.

He said deputies are under pressure because of "drastic understaffing." He said the Sheriff's Office needs more deputies on the road and at the jails.

A few yards away, an equal number of deputies and Hillsborough sheriff's leaders stood and watched the demonstrators. Several wore deputy uniforms. They were quiet as the union leaders talked with reporters, but weren't quiet about their thoughts on the demonstration.

"They don't represent the deputies," said Cpl. Billy Hughes.

He and several others said they agreed there is a staffing shortage, but they said Sheriff David Gee has a plan in place.

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at vansickle@sptimes.com or 813-226-3373.