Radio call sign “Gulfport 3 Bravo” kept busy during a 12-hour shift from 4 p.m. Friday, February 24 to 4 a.m. Saturday, February 25 as I participated in a Gulfport Police Department Citizens’ Academy “ride-a-long” with Community Resource Officer Zack Mills.
Since Mills is a specialist in traffic cases and is the department’s liaison on the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Major Accident Investigation Team, highlights included classroom-based traffic training for a new officer recruit to augment what he had learned in the academy.
Dinnertime. Mills suggested a favorite local place for take-out Cuban sandwiches that also serves gas. We dined in his community policing office, which is in the same building as the 49th Street South Gulfport Community Center.
Afterward, coffee was my choice but it was old as it was just before the business closed for the night. Note to self: Defer to cops when it comes to finding good strong coffee.
When we were rolling, we hunted for DUI and code enforcement violations in addition to possible car theft suspects on the street. At one point, we coordinated with another patrol officer to search for a curfew violator.
“I look for two to three signs that someone is a possible DUI,” said Mills. One is when a vehicle moves too close to or crosses over the centerline. Another is when the driver moves too close to the curb or side of the road.
“Leaving the bar district using residential side streets instead of the main roads is also a sign,” said Mills.
Down one alley, we found trash overflowing a dumpster including a toilet. He made a computer note to notify the people in waste management. He also talked to a neighbor who noticed his presence and she explained the house was being cleaned for sale.
In another alley, he checked on a bank-owned property known to him where a car was illegally parked in the backyard next to a wooden privacy fence. Over the past few days, a couple had been found sleeping in it and they were told to leave. We waited for backup and sure enough, one person was still there. Mills and the other officer talked with the man at length and a practical resolution was reached for both him and his vehicle.
Back on neighborhood streets, we went stealth. Mills’ vehicle is a hybrid, so with the lights turned off and the engine powered by only the battery, we were on silent patrol.
After our eyes adjusted to street light shadows, we looked for people walking in neighborhoods who may be checking vehicle door handles. This is the main reason for thefts – drivers don’t lock the doors.
That’s when he saw three young men on bicycles in Tangerine Greenway park and they had no lights.
Time for a talk.
With his patrol car window rolled down, at first Mills asked them to stop.
The riders saw him, returned the banter but kept moving. Not good.
Then, he tried to coax them while adding flashing roof lights. They kept going.
Finally, he swerved onto the grass next to the sidewalk where they were riding and sternly ordered them to stop. That’s when they tried to dart single file toward 49th Street S. The city limit was only a few yards away. The west side of the street is Gulfport while the east is St. Petersburg and is generally in the jurisdiction of their police department.
Not so fast.
Just when I thought a tree and a bike rack blocking our progress was going to interrupt the mission, a second Gulfport squad car appeared on 49th Street S. and physically blocked the fleeing cyclists. A third pulled up parallel to Mills’ vehicle on the side street.
Within seconds, three officers were now talking to three stopped bike riders. The young men were schooled as to why they needed to stop when asked and why they needed lights.
With the bikes overturned to locate serial numbers, he ran the data in his patrol car computer to check if any had been stolen. Then, he recognized one young man as a former Boca Ciega High School student.
From there, the conversations softened and the contact went smoothly. Soon, the riders were on their way across the street.
Then, the dispatcher’s voice on the radio crackled: “Stabbing in progress.” Responding officers were also cautioned to wear protective rubber gloves and to have their weapons handy as they converged on the home.
Woosh. We were racing through the streets of Gulfport with lights flashing and the siren blaring. (See full story here.)
Nearing the end of our shift, Mills asked me if I knew that Gulfport has a four-story parking garage.
I had no idea and I couldn’t think of where it would be.
So, he showed me by driving through a guard gate and going into the structure. It’s part of the Pasadena Yacht and Country Club!