Community Policing Deputy Noel Dunham prepares to take his bike on patrol in Indian Rock Beach.
It would seem a match made in heaven, Noel Dunham and Indian Rocks Beach.
Dunham is actually Deputy Dunham of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, and he is the new community policing deputy in Inidan Rocks Beach. He knew it would be a good fit when community leaders encouraged him to ride his bike more often. Biking is something of a passion for Dunham so those orders couldn’t have been better.
The idea of hiring a community policing deputy in Indian Rock Beach came up several months ago. There seemed to be differences between some residents of the city and the regular deputies who patrolled the streets.
People openly complained at commission meetings about treatment they received or the attitude exhibited by certain deputies.
City Manager Chuck Coward told the Commission that a community policing deputy, used in other parts of the county, could be the answer to the complaints.
“He or she will have time to look into specifics and become aware of particular problems,” he said. “Regular patrol deputies just don’t have the time for that.”
The commission agreed to hire the deputy for one year to see if it would work. On Oct. 1 Dunham, 51, became IRB’s first community policing deputy, and so far he loves it.
“I have been talking to people all over the city and I’m getting a feel for their concerns,” he said. “I think it is the best job in the world. I love a job that has versatility and flexibility. I will attempt to work as many functions as possible and will be available.”
Community policing is nothing new to Dunham. For the past several years he has served in that capacity in both Seminole and unincorporated Largo.
“I can remember having to deal with back door neighbors who hated each other,” he said. “Finally one day, after getting several calls to the neighborhood, I made one man walk around the block with me to meet the other man face to face. Before I left they had shaken hands and became friends and there was never another call to that neighborhood again.”
In the month he has been on the job Dunham says he has gotten plenty of information from residents and the regular patrol deputies.
“There are roughly 4,000 residents in Indian Rocks Beach,” he said. “Crime isn’t that rampant here but there are some narcotics issues that we’ll have to be addressed. Also, occasionally some bars will violate the noise ordinance and we’ll have to deal with that.”
One sore point Dunham says he can’t ignore is the issue of dogs walking on the beach.
“Many residents who live on the beach wonder why they can’t walk their dogs on the beach,” he said. “But the city has an ordinance and they must comply. I would never want to go on the beach and find an unwanted deposit. It will never be perfect because some people just don’t pay attention to signs.”
Dunham recently celebrated 26 years with the Sheriff’s Office. Prior to becoming a patrol deputy he was a detention deputy at the county jail for 12 years. He also attained the rank of chief master sergeant in the Air Force Reserves at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach. In 2001 he was chosen senior noncommissioned officer of the year.
Dunham is married with an adult son and a 3- and a 4-year-old daughter. He lives in Seminole just 10 minutes from work. And this is where the bicycle story comes in.
“I ride up and down Gulf Boulevard three or four times a week,” he said. “I do that on my days off. In fact I went to instructors’ school for police mountain bikes. I was happy when the city encouraged me to ride my bike while I was working. It provides a more sociable environment and people are more likely to talk to you.”
Mayor R.B. Johnson said so far, so good, for the experiment.
“I have talked to him a number of times and I get a sense he’s getting the lay of the land,” he said. “We have a community meeting coming up with the Sheriff’s Office so he’ll get a lot of feedback there. He’ll get plenty of information that he can mull over.”
Johnson said it is too early to tell if the city will want to extend the contract past the one year.
Oddly, Dunham hopes they don’t.
“I think it would be fair to say if they vote no, then I will have been successful,” he said. “They will be saying, we love the guy but we don’t need him.”