MANATEE -- Community initiatives within the Manatee County Sheriff's Office were shared with residents Thursday night at Supper with the Sheriff.
More than 100 people attended the regular event that started in 2000 at the Police Athletic League, where Sheriff Brad Steube and his staff gave insight of recent successes at the department and opened the floor for discussion of concerns.
"I tell the sheriff all the time that I'm glad to be in Manatee because I can be pretty darn safe," said Dale Burroughs, coordinator for the Citizens Law Enforcement Academy.
Steube greeted those in attendance before the meal was served, and recognized the diverse members of his staff represented as he pointed out administrative, records, corrections, and community policing workers.
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"These are the people that provide you with a safe place to live," Steube said, speaking of their heart and dedication.
Lt. Todd Shear of the Crimes Against Children Division gave a presentation on Operation Green Shepherd in which 43 arrests were made in September during a seven-day investigation targeting sexual predators soliciting children online. Shear noted the arrest of a registered sexual offender and a man who admitted to sexually abusing his 10-year-old nephew.
"It was like taking 10,000 bricks off his back," Shear said when the victim was interviewed. "Had we not done this operation, he'd still be victimized today."
Shear fielded several questions regarding sentencing guidelines for the criminal offenses and explained the sexual predator registration process that requires checking in with the sheriff's office on a regular basis.
The main community concern presented at the meeting was synthetic drugs sold at convenient stores. Pat Bartholemew explained that detectives are actively looking, purchasing and testing drugs sold in order to identify any illegal substances. He added that he
hopes legislation will pass a bill prohibiting sell of all synthetic drugs.
Lorenzo Waiters of Crime Prevention reminded people to increase caution with upcoming holiday shopping: be aware when walking to and from your vehicle, ask to be escorted from the store if desired, keep all valuables on your person and not in a purse.
Steube spoke of the department's involvement with the Republican National Convention in Tampa, BBQ with the Sheriff, Flight to the North Pole fundraiser and the PAL Bowl between Sarasota and Manatee County seniors.
"The most important thing is, crime in the community is down 14 to 15 percent in Manatee County," Steube said, adding that detectives are working to solve this year's rash of homicides. "Pray that when people lose their tempers or have disagreements, instead of moving toward a gun or knife, think twice and cool down so we can head in a different direction," he challenged.
Steube said his main goal is for people to feel safe to go out at night in town or in their neighborhood.
"If you don't have that feeling, we need to do a better job to bring that feeling back," he said.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.