Dispatches from the Citizen’s Police Academy

The Gabber’s Debbie Wolfe will report from each session of the 2017 Gulfport Citizen’s Police Academy. This is part five of 11.

During the Thursday, February 16 field trip, members of the academy learned how a helicopter’s camera can aid in investigations even a day after a vehicle accident has taken place. Sheriff’s Office Lt. Nicholas Lazaris of the Major Accident Investigations Team (MAIT) points out how an aerial view provides a better vantage point when documenting roadway skid marks. “I loved the crash presentation,” said Darryl Robey of Gulfport. “I don’t like math, but I enjoyed how they solved cases by using tape measuring and angles. Lazaris made the topic fun because he loves what he’s doing.”  In some cases, when MAIT reconstructs accident scenes, they place vehicles on wheeled jacks in order to move the heavy objects around to demonstrate visuals of impact moments.

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Nicholas Lazaris of the Major Accident Investigations Team (MAIT) said the best way to survive a vehicle accident is to “wear your seatbelt.” He was one of three speakers who taught academy attendees about the operations of the sheriff’s office. Gulfport’s Community Resource Officer Zack Mills serves as the local representative on MAIT and assists deputies with major vehicle accident investigations involving deaths that occur within the city limits of Gulfport. In addition to specializing in traffic and DUI cases, Mills is also a co-coordinator of the 2017 Citizen’s Police Academy experience along with Commander Joshua Stone.

Emergency communications operators in Pinellas County’s regional 911 Operations Center, 10750 Ulmerton Road, Largo, work in a room filled with desks each one of which is equipped with five computer screens, two keyboards, one telephone and a pole-mounted light system that allows them to signal for specialized help, when needed. For privacy reasons, no tour photos were allowed. This publicity photo, displayed in an adjacent hallway, depicts what the 911 work area looks like. Call operators dispatch first responders such as fire, paramedics and law enforcement. The building in Largo was completed in 2014, and is occupied by Pinellas County’s 911 and Emergency Operations centers, along with the sheriff’s office, said Ricky Butler, the community programs manager for the sheriff’s office. Countywide services provided by the sheriff’s office include sexual predator offender tracking, violent crimes task force, child protective investigations, flight and marine units, said Butler.

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Mike Kilian, a 27-year veteran deputy, teams up with Reggie, a 3-year-old male German Shepherd born in Slovakia and imported for local K9 duty. Together, they are the K1 unit. Speaking on the evening of Thursday, February 16 to academy participants, Kilian said, “The unit as a whole had 11 catches last night dealing with stolen cars and burglars in St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park and Palm Harbor. I’ve been in K9 for nine years and it was one of the busiest nights I’ve ever seen.” The sheriff’s office has 14 K9 units. Each dog must be trained for four months to specific standards then be state certified with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to work the streets with their human law enforcement counterparts. The sheriff’s office has their own full-time dog trainer who is also a deputy. All of the dogs are purchased from Europe and come with a one-year guarantee. The current price per untrained dog is $10,000. “One of the biggest problems we have are slick floors,” said Kilian. “When the dogs come over from Europe, they’ve never been on a tile floor. They’ve either been in cages or dirt kennels. So, we take the dogs to Countryside Mall’s ice skating rink” after business hours and “throw tug toys” for them to fetch. “No matter what it takes, [most] high-drive dogs will get to that toy. They look like Scooby Doo.” The dogs that won’t overcome their fear of this exercise are immediately sent back, he said.


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