Rooting out drug dealers is not as easy as it may appear, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told roughly 80 southside Dunedin residents at a town hall meeting.
"There is no magic wand," he said. "We have to work within the law. We have to make sure we respect people’s Constitutional rights."
Southside residents sounded off on the leader of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office for more than an hour Tuesday night, at times raising their voices and criticizing the Sheriff's office for what they perceive to be a lack of communication with them.
Gualtieri, who spent a decade as a narcotics officer, told residents the root of the problem is drug addiction, which is a widespread social problem that he "will not and can not solve." His deputies can only "deal with the consequences of the problem," and admitted that often times arrests may do little to keep neighborhood streets clean because the suspect can bond out and back to old habits the next day.
"It's a revolving door," he said, and making arrests after a complaint comes in isn't as easy as knocking on the culprit's door.
"We can't just walk up to somebody who's walking down the street and say 'Empty your pockets.' We have to have reasonable suspicion, we have to have probable cause. We have to follow the law in what we're doing." Gualtieri said.
"When somebody calls and says 'I know this person is up to no good.' Well, tell me what you know, how you know it and why you know it, so we can formulate that reasonable suspicion, we can formulate that probable cause and we can take effective law enforcement action."
"We can go out there and do a knock and talk," Gualtieri said. "Most of the time they tell us to get lost. ... There's nothing we can do with it at that point."
He explained that deputies have to find someone to be an informant, do surveillance, use investigative techniques, stop people for traffic infractions, and find other ways to catch illegal activity in plain view.
"Some of the people you see may be informants," he said.
"It’s not that we’re not trying."
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