Pinellas Sheriff: "I am 100% opposed to red-light cameras"

10/23/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Pinellas County, red light cameras, guns, Pinellas Safe Harbor, homeless


Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club that his is 100% opposed to red light cameras.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Red light cameras are popping up all over the Tampa Bay area, but not in unincorporated Pinellas County. During a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon Wednesday, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri explained why.

“I am 100% opposed to red-light cameras.”

Gualtieri acknowledged that he is a minority among law enforcement officials who tend to favor the cameras. But he said traffic enforcement should be about public safety, not profit.

“This should not be a situation where somebody is sitting there in front of a TV monitor or a computer screen and you got a line in the road and the car comes up and, whoops, it goes from yellow to red and the person’s wheels touched the line – oh, now you’ve got to pay $158 bucks. To me, that’s not public safety, that’s not good law enforcement.”

Instead, he thinks law enforcement can be just as reliable from a public safety standpoint by issuing fewer citations and more warnings.

“The officer needs to consider the type of driving involved, needs to consider the factors of weather, needs to consider whether it’s aggressive driving, needs to consider the driver’s attitude and whether they accept responsibility for their actions, needs to consider the driver’s history.”

But there are some areas where Gualtieri’s agency does have to enforce red light camera citations.

“I don’t’ set the policy for those cities. The city commissions, the city councils in those individual cities, they get to set the policies in their cities. They pay us to be their police provider. So, we do enforce red light camera violations under the contract that we have with South Pasadena and with Oldsmar.”

Pinellas County and Gualtieri has been lauded for the opening of a homeless shelter run by the Sheriff’s office in 2011. It’s located adjacent to the county jail and offers people a reprieve from the streets and an alternative to incarceration for what Gualtieri describes as social crimes that were clogging the justice system.

“So, we opened Pinellas Safe Harbor. Again, we house about 400 people a day there is an average daily population and it costs about $13 a day out of the Sheriff’s budget to house them at Safe Harbor. So, however you do the math and whatever calculator you use, $13 a day is a lot cheaper than $105 a day and importantly, we’re making great strides in getting those individuals services to break that cycle of homelessness so that the criminal justice system is not being used as a dumping ground to solve a social situation because that’s what was being done.”

Even though the program has been considered a success and even used as a model for other localities like Tampa and Hillsborough County, it hasn’t wiped out the issue of homelessness. Suncoast Tiger Bay Club member Ray Neri said the agency was doing a great job.

“But our community still has the problem of homeless who don’t want to go anywhere. So, they camp out in alley ways and now our parks which we’re having a meeting with the county to get rid of them. It’s becoming a place where it’s overrun with homeless who don’t want services.

Neri wanted to know what was being done to get the more stubborn part of the county’s homeless population to use the services available. Gualtieri said the issue has been considered and the agency, along with other groups like social service providers, will continue looking for solutions.

“We created a housing unit in the jail that probably wasn’t the most desirable from the standpoint that they didn’t have a lot of privileges – they didn’t have commissary, they didn’t have TV, they didn’t have a lot of things – trying to get them to understand that there is a better way and you don’t get to decide that you get a cot, three free meals a day and you get to stay with a roof over your head and restroom facilities and just coast and go back out on the streets again. We want you to get services. We want you to break the cycle of homelessness.”

Also brought up at the meeting was Gualtieri’s stance on arming teachers in classrooms. Just this week, a seventh grade student in Nevada shot and killed a teacher and injured two students and a math teacher in Massachusetts was found dead near her school – the killer presumed to be a student.

“Teachers need to teach. Law enforcement needs to do its job. Pilots don’t need to carry guns either I don’t think in cockpits of airplanes – especially with teachers. When you get yourself into a situation that happens – a very stressful environment – you get an active shooter situation, going to the range and qualifying every six months or every year is going to be a disaster.”

Gualtieri also rejected the notion that armed officers should be present in all schools and instead suggested improvements to school safety by making areas where students learn more secure.

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