OUR POSITION: Efficiencies, yes. But South County isn’t feeling feeling the love from the Sheriff’s Office.
Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight raised some eyebrows for closing the South County substation — an office, he says, that is expensive to staff and has little walk-up traffic.
The office is situated on the east side of State Road 776, just north of the Jacaranda Boulevard intersection. The building doesn’t stand out; likely, many people wouldn’t even realize it was there unless they noticed patrol cars pulling into the driveway.
But it was there, on the rare occasion it was needed. For some people, especially an older population, it was a convenient contact point that provided a sense of security. And then, this is the third South County service Knight has ended during his decade in office. All justified by efficiency. But enough to make one wiggle the eyebrows.
The Sheriff’s Office will continue to use the SR 776 substation for training. Knight will keep an office there. Deputies will use the place to conduct interviews. A drug drop-off bin will remain.
The front desk will no longer take walk-up traffic, though. All that will be consolidated at the new Sheriff’s Office complex at 6010 Cattleridge Blvd., off Interstate 75 north of Bee Ridge Road. That’s certainly more convenient than the old headquarters in downtown Sarasota, but still a haul from South County.
Knight insisted that his department would meet customer service demands — to file complaints, for instance — by maintaining contact through the office’s website or smartphone app. Deputies will make house calls for service if asked.
“Call us, we will come to you,” he said in an email. (The main number is 941-316-1201.)
That’s a big guarantee, so keep the number in a convenient location.
Knight also noted office hours had been scaled back from 24/7 to 7 a.m.-7 p.m. awhile back. We heard no complaints about that. And then, whenever Knight visited the Venice office he encountered no walk-ins in the lobby.
“Deputies were sitting doing nothing,” he said.
That’s expensive and inefficient. A waste of time and energy. Deputies aren’t cheap. Two staffed the front desk; eight were used to cover shifts in both the South County and the main office. When a desk officer is out for a day, another has to be pulled in off patrol. Obviously, not optimal.
Now, Knight said, “This will provide no loss of service and actually put two additional deputies in law enforcement positions.”
No loss of service?
Say the loss will be minimal. Most needs may be met otherwise, as the sheriff said, and maybe this is an efficient model for the future. There may be cheaper ways to staff a front desk, but we would rather have deputies out of the office and in the community.
Change is unsettling, though, and we can’t help feeling a bit wary of the trend.
A decade ago, Knight closed the community policing substation in Englewood, and other places. Again, it was a cost/effectiveness issue. Five years ago, the South County jail — which consisted of temporary holding cells at the Venice Police Department — also was shut because of staffing costs. That meant suspects taken into custody by Venice and North Port police, and sheriff’s deputies, had to be transported immediately to the county jail in downtown Sarasota.
Considering Knight grew up in Venice and continues to live in Venice, the situation is counter-intuitive. Everyone knows he’s a South County guy. He’s got a lot of trust here, so Southies are inclined to give him the benefit of a doubt.
We just can’t help imagine the reaction if a Sarasota-based sheriff did the same thing, though.