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Cheval hires deputies for patrol

Fed up with speeders, the homeowners association pays for random patrols by off-duty officers. Not everyone is pleased.

By EVE LEBERSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001


LUTZ -- Motorists ignoring traffic laws within Cheval might be in for an unpleasant surprise that could carry a steep price tag.

At the request of the east Cheval Property Owners Association, off-duty deputies now patrol the gated community and hand out tickets.

The association's president said the group has tried to slow traffic for more than two years. Three-way stop signs were installed, speed limit signs were made larger and speed bumps were added along Cheval Boulevard and Avenue Avignon, the connector road that links east Cheval with west Cheval.

According to Weller, residents complained of vehicles exceeding the 25-mph speed limit throughout Cheval even after the traffic-calming devices were installed. A community newsletter said motorists were "passing other vehicles, leaving paved surfaces to drive around speed bumps or driving in an unsafe manner." Vehicles came close to colliding with pedestrians and a bicyclist, the notice said.

"It got to the point where the board felt it was obligated to reduce the speeds," said Weller. "And we are in the fortunate position in that we own the streets and have the resources to hire off-duty sheriff's deputies."

The reactions have been mixed. East Cheval resident Jim Lyman applauded the board's decision. "I walked the circle (of Cheval Boulevard) and there is definitely a problem," said Lyman, who has lived in Cheval for eight years.

But not all residents agree that hiring deputies is the right course of action.

"I want my neighborhood safe for all residents at all times," said Dianne Pullan. "But I don't think having the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in here lurking behind bushes and making me feel like I am constantly being watched at the invitation of my elected board of directors is the solution."

Weller said residents were alerted to the board's decision several times through newsletters and mailings. But Pullan, who moved into Cheval last November, said she never saw a notice. So she was outraged when she and the family nanny were slapped with a $90-dollar citation for making a rolling stop at a stop sign at an intersection on Cheval Boulevard.

"We as homeowners are, in essence, paying the police to ticket us," said Pullan.

Sgt. Al Greco and Deputy Ed Kelley said the Sheriff's Office allows any organization or company, with the exception of bars, to hire law deputies off-duty. The officers are paid directly by the employer at flat rate of $20 per hour, while the department receives an additional $2 per hour for the use of county vehicles plus 25 cents for each mile driven.

"We will be more than happy to patrol a subdivision," said Kelley. "But we are not there primarily for traffic. We are going to be hired strictly for purposes of security."

But, Greco adds, deputies will write tickets for speeders if they are bored or they see motorists ignoring traffic laws.

Deputies began patrolling the area March 2. According to east Cheval's property manager, Mary Ann Luallen, patrols were intense the first two weeks to establish a police presence. But now that traffic has slowed, Luallen said, deputy presence in April will be less extreme. Aside from the deputies, Luallen is the only person who knows when the deputies will be on the premises.

Luallen said the homeowners association has allotted $20,000 in this year's budget to pay for the officers.

Pullan wishes the deputies would issue warnings instead of writing tickets. And she worries that deputies are writing unnecessary tickets to satisfy the homeowners association and prove they are needed.

Kelley said that's not correct: "We are not going to allow a separate entity like a homeowners association demand we write speeding tickets." If that did happen, he said, someone would be in trouble.

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