This is the blog for Robert Vincent, Chief of Police for the Gulfport (Florida) Police Department. Please feel free to leave comments, but keep in mind that anything appearing on this page may be subject to retention and disclosure in accordance with Florida public records law.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

To Catch a Thief

When you’re awakened in the middle of the night by helicopter rotors and sirens accompanied by red & blue flashers and bright spotlights, the logical assumption is that something is up.

Exactly what that is, however, can be just about anything. It doesn’t always mean a murderer or rapist is on the loose.

Recently, Gulfport officers were asked to locate a man who was wanted by the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office for several counts of dealing in stolen property. When the officers found him, the suspect took off running, and the law enforcement machine went to work.

Since we share communications with the sheriff’s office, deputies were already monitoring the situation, and they responded immediately. In this densely-populated county with over twenty law enforcement agencies routinely working across jurisdictions, this is an everyday occurrence. Gulfport and PCSO patrol units set up a perimeter, and sheriff’s investigators requested air and K-9 support. For over an hour we searched; unfortunately, the suspect was able to evade capture. For the moment. He was apprehended a few days later under similar circumstances. A Gulfport officer spotted and recognized him, and with assistance from another agency (St. Petersburg PD this time), the suspect was apprehended by a K-9 while hiding under a house.

Is all this overkill for a thief? Is catching this kind of crook worth the expense and public inconvenience of saturating a neighborhood with a dozen or more officers and deputies, a couple of police dogs, and a helicopter? Well, you be the judge.

Consider that this man was wanted for 28 counts of dealing in stolen property. Each count is a second-degree felony punishable by up to fifteen years in prison. Consider that theft of property is Gulfport’s number one crime, has been for years, and is routinely among residents’ top complaints to police.

Some may think that such efforts should be reserved for violent offenders, but I’m the one who would be stuck explaining to the victims of the thefts and burglaries that we didn’t catch the criminal because we just didn’t try hard enough. That doesn’t sit well with me, but I don’t think there is a perfect answer. I see this particular case as a job well done, and I wouldn’t hesitate to put forth the same effort again. The best we can do is keep the resources available and leave it to the best judgment of our trained and experienced officers to make the right decisions on how and when to use them.

In the meantime, we’ll do our best to let the public know if there is ever a dangerous fugitive on the loose. We can send instant media alerts to news outlets, post messages on our Facebook page, and we invite residents to sign up for our new emergency alert system https://alertregistration.com/GulfPortFL/

Stay safe, and as always, your feedback is welcome and appreciated.