NEW PORT RICHEY — From sexting to children and home invasions to panhandling and prostitution, Sheriff Chris Nocco touched on a wide range of topics during an appearance Wednesday before a West Pasco community group.
The Pasco Sheriff’s Office now deploys a cyber crime unit to guard against child pornography, Nocco told members of Council of Neighborhood Associations.
For instance, Nocco strongly recommended removing any smartphone app on a child’s phone that allows for illicit sexting. Often the child might unknowingly be communicating with a child predator.
Concerning illegal drugs, deputies are witnessing a big increase in heroin and methamphetamine use, Nocco observed. “That’s a scary thing,” he said about 12-year-old addicts.
The east side of Pasco tends to be a hub for drug cartels, Nocco added.
“We have a very, very bad problem” with residents making their own meth at homes, Nocco added. He thinks home-grown meth production could cause many fires in Pasco.
He hopes stores can take more steps to safeguard against selling over-the-counter medications that addicts use to convert into meth.
Home invasions often can involve drug dealers warring with each other, Noccosaid. He recalled a home invasion in the Griffin Park area on Dec. 19 that turned out to be drug-related. The victim who recovered from a gunshot wound was arrested later.
Relatives in other states might inherit a Florida home from a Pasco resident who has died, Nocco commented. Then the absentee landlord might unwittingly rent the house to a tenant who turns out to be a drug dealer.
“It’s better to have grass” than a run-down home which criminals frequent, Nocco remarked. Law enforcement agencies would have to work with code enforcement officials to try to demolish any crime-ridden house.
Panhandling is another problem of particular interest to many residents, Nocco continued. “We’re asking for clear direction” about enforcement of a Pasco ordinance regulating panhandlers.
For any arrests under the county regulation, the county must pay to provide an attorney for a defendant, if necessary, Nocco said.
Besides, writing citations and jailing panhandling violators problem won’t stop the problem, Nocco believes. Panhandlers often are homeless people camping in woods or bedding down in abandoned homes.
Similarly, arrestees on prostitution charges often can get released on recognizance and then return to an area to resume illegal activities at seedier motels or abandoned homes.
“We’re going to try to embarrass johns as much as we can,” Nocco added about prostitution problems.
CONA members asked about mail theft and other neighborhood security concerns.
A detective arrested a suspect in the Gulf Harbors area on charges of stealing about 900 pieces of mail, Nocco recalled. The sheriff advised residents to think twice about putting up the red flag on mailboxes for outgoing mail.
Another hazard comes from crooks posing as maintenance workers who actually are casing the neighborhood for potential burglaries, Nocco noted. He advised residents to get a license plate number off any suspicious vehicle and report it to the Sheriff’s Office tipline.
Another scam involved youths going door to door, claiming to be selling magazines as part of some school club drive, Nocco warned. Homeowner associations should post no-solicitation signs at the entrance of a subdivision, which should serve as sufficient notice in the event of arrests.
The Sheriff’s Office also has begun quarterly training meetings for neighborhood watch volunteers, Nocco emphasized. Watches only require residents to call in tips to deputies.
Some problems arose over security patrols when an overzealous member of a patrol started pulling over drivers for traffic stops, despite lacking the authority to do so.
A CONA member also mentioned the case of George Zimmerman as a chilling effect on neighborhood patrols and watches. Zimmerman, a member of an Orlando-area crime watch, ultimately was acquitted in the shooting death of teen Trayvon Martin.
Another question concerned the Pasco Sheriff’s Office losing deputies to law enforcement agencies in other counties that can pay more.
Pinellas Sheriff’s Office plans to hire 120 more officers in the near future, Nocco pointed out. Plus many Pasco deputies could be approaching retirement soon.
New Pasco deputies earn $39,000 a year, but do not qualify for overtime. Other agencies in adjacent counties pay a starting salary of $47,000.