Cousins Cayden Bulino, left, and Megan O’Reilly sit in a Pinellas County Sheriff’s armored car on display at the Indian Rocks Beach Public Safety Day Aug. 25.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Several times over recent months Indian Rocks Beach Commissioner Cookie Kennedy has spoken out about the attitude of Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies who patrol the city. She has indicated that residents complained to her on several occasions about rude behavior by some deputies.
Recently there was an event that involved local teenagers being questioned by deputies after some play equipment got broken in Kolb Park. Parents complained that the deputies were aggressive and intimidating, and they took their concerns to the City Commission.
Those complaints were what spurred on the first Public Safety Day in Indian Rocks Beach on Aug. 25. The event was spearheaded by the Sheriff’s Office and coordinated by Community Deputy Noel Dunham. Kennedy feels it was successful.
“I will tell you right now my attitude has changed,” she said. “I saw several of those parents here today and they seemed enthusiastic. I would never want my son to grow up being afraid of the police and I’ve always tried to have a positive attitude about them. I think today brought our relationship with them to a new level.”
The Sheriff’s Office brought everything it had for display, along with deputies to explain things and help the kids get in on the various exhibits. There was the helicopter, the Marine Unit, the K-9 Unit and two armored vehicles. In addition the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District brought out equipment for display as well.
Kennedy said she didn’t realize the Sheriff’s Office was involved on so many levels.
“A lot of people didn’t know all the things the Sheriff’s Office has,” she said. “I believe this is only the first or second time in the whole county that they have done this, just showing off their amenities.”
Among those amenities was a 1961 Plymouth, painted in the Sheriff’s Office colors. It is used mainly in parades now, but at one time the Sheriff’s Office had cars like it in the regular fleet. Mechanic Paul Cowan said back in the day these cars had a short shelf life.
“Usually they only lasted about a year or a year and a half,” he said. “The reason is they were never turned off. One shift would end; another deputy got in and drove it for eight hours. Then when that shift ended, it was driven by yet another deputy. That went on day after day. And back then the roads were bad, not like they are today.”
Listening intently was Denny Mennen, visiting from Indiana. He was impressed with everything he saw.
“This is all very interesting,” he said. “I’m here visiting my cousin, Indian Rocks Beach Commissioner Phil Hanna and I’ve already talked to the pilots of the helicopter and I’m learning valuable information here. This is a very good event.”
Nearby IRB resident Tammy Miller was even more enthusiastic.
“I love this,” she said. “I’ve had my picture taken in the old car and I watched the helicopter take off. They absolutely should have this again next year.”
Just as pleased was resident Jim Sampey.
“I love having these events,” he said. “I moved here years ago and I have always felt the Sheriff’s Office has done a good job. I always see them cruising around and they are always friendly.”
Resident Kay Turansky expressed some disappointment. She and Harry McGrath moved to Indian Rocks Beach 27 years ago and she has seen Kolb Park, the site of Saturday’s event, packed with people during other community events. She wished more people had shown up on Saturday.
“I love this, I think it is great,” she said. “But there aren’t enough people. They should have spread the word around a little more. This is a wonderful community, in fact I think it is the best little beach town around and this is a good way to meet community officials. They take good care of us.”
Not long after she said those words more people did show up.
“All of a sudden there was a great influx of people,” said Kennedy. “We had to make more food and everybody was talking about the dog and the helicopter. The kids loved it and I’m happy about that because we targeted them specifically.”
Kennedy was actually surprised that so many people showed up.
“We only had a month to put this altogether,” she said. “I was concerned we didn’t have enough time, especially with all the other community events that are coming up.”
Putting it together involved more than just the Sheriff’s Office and the Fire & Rescue Department. Kennedy said all that food had to be rounded up and it became a community event.
“The Indian Rocks Rotary club donated all the hamburgers; an anonymous donor gave us money for the hot dogs and other food. City Clerk Deanne O’Reilly donated all the chips we had and the City provided the sodas and drinks,” she said.
Kennedy also pointed out that it gave the residents an opportunity to meet Dunham who is assigned specifically to community affairs. It is his job to mediate situations such as the incident involving the youths in the park. The Public Safety Day was for the most part his idea.
Kennedy says she hopes this can happen again next year.
“If the sheriff is willing to do it again I know we are more than willing, we want them to be visible, we want to diminish bad feelings and I want them to know it is alright,” she said.
Will there be a second annual Public Safety Day in Indian Rocks beach? There was a hint for the future in Dunham’s opening remarks.
“Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to the first, and I hope an annual, Public Safety Day in Indian Rocks Beach.”