The Leadership Tampa class of 2015 was fired up (no pun intended) for Law Enforcement Day on October 15. Most of us had already done our ride-alongs with a Tampa PD or HSCO patrol officer, and we had many jaw-dropping stories to share and listen to over the course of the day.
We started the morning at the Falkenburg jail. I was amazed to hear that our local law enforcement is desperately seeking recruits. It’s a pervasive problem that came up several times over the course of the day. Major Mike Perotti indicated to our class that only about 3 percent of all applicants are selected to join the force. It’s a rigorous hiring process that few are able to get through, and the number of applicants is dwindling. It’s an issue that will require some fresh solutions in the upcoming years.
We then broke into groups to receive tours of the Falkenburg facility by seasoned veterans of the staff. We were able to see the clinics, the pods (which hold 72 inmates with one unarmed deputy), and the suicide watch room (I forget the official name for it). We heard from Ollie Gagnon of Homeland Security where we learned that cyber crimes have increased 650% over the past 5 years (that’s no typo). After lunch with several of TPD and HCSO’s finest, we headed to tours at the Orient Road jail where we saw their pods (again, manned by one unarmed deputy), the clinic, the intake area for the entire county, and the control room, which houses cameras to watch what’s going on throughout the jail. Here are some interesting facts that stuck out to me:
- Incoming women take a pregnancy test. If they are positive, they go straight to the clinic and stay there for their entire gestational period. They go to Tampa General to have the baby, then they come back to the prison to complete their sentence.
- The Falkenburg facility typically houses people who are incarcerated for less than a year. If they are sentenced to longer than a year, then they go to the Orient Road jail (although Orient Road also holds people for short amounts of time).
- Most inmates are allowed to take free classes. The social worker who spoke with us said that the most necessary class for them is based in fundamental psychology. He said inmates don’t understand that their choices and their actions are what got them to jail… that their incarceration really is a product of their own life choices, and not someone else’s fault.
- The suicide watch ward was fascinating – and a tad bit uncomfortable. In addition to constant camera monitoring, the guards there do physical rounds every 15 minutes to monitor the inmates to make sure they don’t kill themselves. Inmates might spit out their meds or chip off pieces of the wall to slice their wrists. They are made to wear “turtle suits” so they can’t shred their orange jail suits and use them to hang themselves. The turtle suits (so named for their green color) look like padded gunnysacks with Velcro on the shoulders.
- The disposition of the guards – in both places – was very calm. It was impressive.
- The total capacity of both jails is about 5000 inmates.
- There are many cases of mental illness at the jails. The root cause of why most of the people are in jail is drugs, and the number one drug type they see is Spice and Bath Salts (ok, I guess that’s two types). We learned that one bad hit of Spice can put an individual into a vegetative state for life. Wow. I ran home and told my teenagers about that one.
We concluded the day with some demonstrations from TPD and HCSO, including a patrol helicopter, the water unit, one of the canines, a SWAT truck, and – the highlight – how a Taser works. In fact, some of my classmates got a first-hand experience of how it feels to be Tasered. (I stuck with the experience of simply shooting a Taser gun.)
Lastly, we heard from a panel which included a judge, a member of the state defender’s office, the state prosecutor’s office, Colonel Ken Davis from HCSO and TPD Chief Castor. I was super impressed with Chief Castor, and I asked her what obstacles she had to overcome to be a female leader in a male-dominated industry. Her reply (which I loved): “Everyone will be discriminated against. It’s all about what you do with it.”