Sheriff Gualtieri tests positive for COVID-19

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri

DUNEDIN — When it comes to enforcing regulations adopted to help control the spread of the coronavirus, law enforcement officials' goal is just getting people to do the right thing.

That, essentially, was the message Sheriff Bob Gualtieri conveyed to city commissioners Nov. 19 during an update on his department's recent activities.

He talked at length how his agency was handling violations of regulations pertaining to the virus.

Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski asked Gualtieri to describe what the emergency order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis in late September did from an enforcement standpoint and "how it kind of hurt our abilities."

"From the enforcement standpoint, you can't fine anybody. So it did take a little bit of the wind out of the sail as far getting people who need that extra nudge to comply," he said. So it is a little bit of a problem. Our whole goal throughout this whole time, this whole challenge, is just getting people to do the right thing," Gualtieri said.

Some people are generally confused and don't understand what the requirements are, he said, pertaining to masks and social distancing.

"They think if I'm in this restaurant and outside we can all be packed next to each other. That's not the case at all," Gualtieri said.

The executive order does not impact the local ordinance Pinellas County officials adopted, including the face-covering requirement for indoor facilities and that customers be seated to be served at a bar or restaurant.

Gualtieri noted there's a lot of noncompliance in bars with regulations. After the Thanksgiving holiday, County Administrator Barry Burton and he are going to engage in a public relations campaign to raise the level of awareness about regulations in place, he said.

Bujalski said she has heard from the business community is "enforcement fatigue" stemming from customers who refused to comply with regulations.

"I think an education program will help a lot," she said.

They have asked for the large yellow posters that the Sheriff's Office distributed in the summer so they have something to use in getting compliance, she said.

"The role of enforcement is really being played on the business owners, and that's what they are going through," Bujalski said.

Gualtieri said he received that feedback, too.

Customers come in to businesses, and some merchants don't feel comfortable enforcing the regulations.

"But if you have the sign there that says and is part of the ordinance, and it has the Sheriff's Office logo and county logos — that force of law behind them — it makes it easier for them to just say, 'Look, we've got to do this and here' why,'" Gualtieri said.

"I hear you on that."

Bujalski complimented Gualtieri for his actions during the pandemic, saying he had been on speed dial throughout COVID with commissioners and the city manager.

"I know you talked to me quite a bit, and I was very pleased with the service you provided our community and provided us — the information and all the things that you have done over the last six or eight months," she said.

Gualtieri also discussed community policing, saying years ago his staff was diligent about making sure deputies in Dunedin and other communities were going into shops and having personal contact with business owners.

He said he is committed to making sure the department does a better job of that than they have lately in Dunedin and making a strong presence, especially in the downtown area.

"They really need to get into the stores and talk to the people and get around and get to know them."

Among other topics he discussed Gualtieri reiterated his support for the use of body cameras but warned that technology has it limits.

"You are going to have situations where an incident happens. The body camera isn't going to capture it, and people are going to get disappointed," he said.

There could be a number of reasons why the camera doesn't capture some incidents, including it get knocked off in a fight, he said.

"Because it is not super-glued to the deputy's uniform," he said. "It's held on by a magnet. It could come off."

He expects to finish the process of a field trial on a camera system by the end of the month. The annual cost to implement the cameras is $3-$5 million annually on the policing side.

"We are going to implement body cameras," he said.

Commissioners thanked the sheriff for his service.

"I have great confidence in your leadership," said Commissioner Moe Freaney.