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Tension growing between city, sheriff

Largo's city manager says police should patrol unincorporated enclaves. The sheriff calls the twist on his own proposal "backwards."


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000

LARGO -- In the latest move in the chess match between the city and the Sheriff's Office over police service, City Manager Steven Stanton on Wednesday proposed taking over law enforcement in small unincorporated areas within city limits.

Stanton said he will ask city commissioners next month to approve arranging a contract with the county to offer police, garbage removal and all other services in enclaves within Largo's borders.

An enclave is land outside city boundaries but surrounded by property inside a city.

The city manager's proposal comes almost three weeks after Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice suggested that Largo dismantle its Police Department and agree to have sheriff's deputies patrol the city. Stanton and Largo commissioners are vehemently opposed to that idea.

Stanton said his idea is about simplification. Largo officers often cruise through these enclaves during their patrols. Stanton thinks it's logical for Largo officers to handle all calls for service in those areas. "It makes no sense for the county to provide service in enclaves that are surrounded by the city," he said. "I think it's an idea whose time has come."

Though Stanton said the sheriff had an "obligation" to review the proposal, Rice said he thinks little of the idea.

"I'd be interested in doing anything that would make law enforcement more efficient in this county," Rice said Wednesday. "This wouldn't make it more efficient. It would make it worse."

If it is approved by city commissioners, Stanton said he would present a proposal to County Administrator Fred Marquis. Stanton estimated there are about 3,000 people who live in unincorporated enclaves within Largo's boundaries. Marquis was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Rice said he first heard about the idea about a week ago. He thought the proposal was "backwards" and thinks it would muddle the Sheriff's Office's longstanding jurisdiction over unincorporated Pinellas County. Rice said he could not recall a city making such an offer to his office.

"You cannot have municipal police officers with jurisdiction in unincorporated areas of the county," he said.

Stanton said a contract would earn Largo money from the county. Stanton said city staff members have not written the proposal, and he does not know how much he would charge the county for such services.

The past few months have been turbulent times for the Largo Police Department. An investigation into police misconduct released in early May found one current and two former officers had sexual relationships with members of a youth Explorers group. Citing the stress from the inquiry and a brief hospital stay for an irregular heartbeat, Largo Police Chief Jerry Bloechle announced earlier this month plans to retire by October.

A day after Bloechle's retirement announcement, Rice discussed with the Times his idea to take over law enforcement in Largo. Rice has argued his deputies can do a better job in Largo and save the city millions.

On Friday, Stanton sent a memo to the Largo Police Department insisting the city is not interested in Rice's proposal. The memo suggested Rice's offer was an attempt at "self-preservation" as Pinellas cities such as Largo annex more land into their borders, leaving the Sheriff's Office with a smaller area to patrol.

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