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Gripes kept to a minimum in Madeira Beach

A town meeting reveals crime issues such as speeding, jaywalking, barking dogs and drivers ignoring stop signs.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 2000


MADEIRA BEACH -- When the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office hosted a town meeting Tuesday, about a dozen residents showed up, and most were city officials or neighborhood watch members.

The small crowd isn't necessarily a bad sign, said Tony Peyinghaus, the Madeira Beach community policing officer.

"Most of the time what you see is when there's a crisis, the room gets packed," Peyinghaus said.

No crises in Madeira Beach. The intimate group spent about 90 minutes talking about where the Sheriff's Office needs to focus its attention, and the list they came up with revealed how safe residents feel in their city of 4,200 people.

Speeders. Jaywalkers. Barking dogs. Drivers who don't stop for stop signs. Badly placed school bus stops. Those are the pressing crime issues in Madeira Beach.

The city opted five years ago to dissolve the Madeira Beach Police Department, handing over law enforcement to Pinellas Sheriff Everett Rice. The city paid nearly $1-million for its former police force and saves about $400,000 annually by contracting with the sheriff.

In addition, Madeira Beach received a federal grant that helped them hire Peyinghaus as its community policing officer. Though a sheriff's deputy, Peyinghaus is devoted exclusively to Madeira Beach, where he attends community meetings and organizes special patrols when necessary.

Some Pinellas municipalities that pulled the plug on their small-town police forces met great resistance from their residents, but Madeira Beach's transition was among the easiest on record. Crowds packed public meetings in 1995, but the dozens of people who showed only wanted to praise the change.

From January through October of this year, 64 burglaries were reported in the city. During the same time, 78 complaints about animals were reported.

The most serious crime this year in the city was the arson that claimed more than a dozen businesses at John's Pass Village in the early morning hours of Valentine's Day. It remains unsolved.

Mayor Tom DeCesare mentioned Madeira Beach's policy of allowing alcohol on its beach, saying he is concerned about public drunkenness in the city. DeCesare suggested at a commission meeting earlier this year that Madeira Beach should consider banning alcohol on the beach, but other commissioners were uninterested.

From January through the end of October, police arrested 21 people in Madeira Beach for drunken driving. Another 154 were arrested for being drunk pedestrians, according to city records on police activity.

Peyinghaus said he does favor banning alcohol on the beach, pointing out that only one other beach city in Pinellas County, Treasure Island, allows it.

"I still feel like if we can get the alcohol off the beach, that will be a good tool for us in law enforcement," Peyinghaus said, adding that he has no plans to bring the issue back to the commission.

City Manager Mike Bonfield has asked Peyinghaus to look into jaywalking in Madeira Beach, and the deputy said pedestrians are particularly careless in the areas around John's Pass Village. The city is considering signs or other methods of informing drivers and pedestrians.

Residents also discussed ways of reporting crime or suspicious circumstances without calling the emergency 911 line. Peyinghaus urged residents to call the Sheriff's Office at 582-6177 for non-emergency situations.

People occasionally misuse 911 by calling to ask for directions or request information, he said.

"Sometimes when people want convenience, they don't think about the impact on other people," Peyinghaus said.

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