Despite perceptions to the contrary, Gulfport is not Mayberry. And while I could do worse than to be compared to Andy Griffith, I’m not exactly Sheriff Taylor material either. While we in Gulfport like to celebrate characteristics like being unique and quaint, our similarities to the fictional small town police department end there.
The Gulfport Police Department in 2011 is, quite honestly, among the most professional law enforcement organizations in the world. How can I make such a claim? Consider these facts:
· Accredited by the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation in 2000, the agency has been reaccredited three times. Of the over 350 law enforcement agencies in Florida, only 68 have achieved this level of recognition for consistently providing exemplary law enforcement service. The accreditation process mandates frequent review and updating of policies and procedures to ensure that they are always in line with the industry’s best practices.
· Minimum education standards for police officers specify a high school diploma or GED. Gulfport requires college education of at least 60 credit hours from an accredited institution. In fact, over one-third of our officers have at least a bachelor’s degree, and twenty percent have a master’s degree.
· The Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission requires that officers complete forty hours of advanced training every four years. In Gulfport, the average officer receives four to five times that amount. We go above and beyond to ensure that officers receive frequent refresher training in all high-liability areas (firearms, intermediate weapons, vehicle operations) as well as timely updates on changes in statutes or case law. In addition, those officers assigned to special investigations or operations are provided advanced training commensurate with their positions. Sex crimes investigators, for example, receive forty hours of instruction exclusive to that subject alone.
· Six of the thirty sworn officers working in Gulfport are certified as professional instructors in various subjects. This means they are recognized and authorized to train recruits and in-service law enforcement personnel throughout the state on topics ranging from use of force to emergency vehicle operations.
· The officers working this community are provided with the latest and most effective technology and equipment in order to facilitate their mission. Some examples:
o Mobile dispatch system allowing officers to access call and records information, as well as limitless web-based resources from their patrol cars.
o Radio system allowing interagency communication at all levels.
o Audio/video recording devices for each patrol car or patrol officer.
o Each officer is issued or has access to a .40 caliber primary handgun (they get more than one bullet—sorry Barney), .38 or .40 caliber backup handgun, .223 caliber rifle, 12 gauge shotgun with less-lethal ammunition, Taser electronic control device, expandable steel baton, and OC chemical weapon.
o Laser and Radar speed measuring and range-finding equipment.
o Automatic license plate recognition cameras on a patrol vehicle.
o Biometric security devices for all mobile computers.
o Low-light enhanced vision monoculars.
o Covert video surveillance cameras and monitoring equipment.
These professional, highly-trained, and well-equipped officers stay very busy in Gulfport. In a typical year, they respond to 12,000 calls for service, document 3,000 incidents, investigate 600 serious criminal offenses, and work 160 traffic crash scenes. This workload is among the highest, per officer, among agencies in the Tampa Bay area.
Many of the investigations and operations conducted by Gulfport officers are done in conjunction with their colleagues in surrounding communities. The level of cooperation enjoyed among the Pinellas law enforcement agencies is envied by those in other regions. As we go about the business of finding and arresting criminals, we are constantly reminded that Gulfport is but a neighborhood in a large and densely-populated metropolitan area. The transient nature that is so characteristic of the criminal element does not recognize the unique and quaint nature that many of our residents have come to love.
Dealing with these transient criminals while recognizing and prioritizing the Gulfport way of life is a constant challenge for our police officers. I do my best to pick good ones, then I give them the right tools to do the job. Personally, I think they’re doing pretty well, even without Sheriff Taylor in charge.
What do you think?
Disclaimer: No offense is intended to the Mt. Airy, North Carolina Police Department, which is in fact a modern and professional police organization (Mt. Airy being the town that served as the inspiration for the Andy Griffith show).