Posted by: Dee Garcia on Thursday, May 13, 2021

Tampa Firefighters Museum

We started our day at the museum, filled with a treasure trove of historic mementos, photos and equipment – bringing out the kid in everyone – what a great place to host a party, whether a wedding reception or a 5 year-old’s birthday. After time to view the exhibits, the topics turned serious, with introductions and emceed by Asst. Chief Ruben Delgado for (1) an in-depth jail presentation by Col. Melissa Moore of the Hillsborough County Sherriff’s office, which provided a number of insights about how the county’s two jails (on Faulkenberg and Orient roads) handled transitioning for COVID to ensure the safety of their 2,700 inmates plus the officers/staff manning the jails. She discussed a range of topics, from caring for physical health, legal and mental health issues to the logistics of running these facilities. (2) Then Sgt. Duane Benton and Lauren Alston of the Sherriff’s office discussed how the community approach to mental health has changed from an institutional approach (asylums and sanitariums) prior to the 1960’s to a community model thanks to a 1963 act that assumed families would take on the care of the mentally needy with treatment supported via an outpatient basis, but that has resulted in the current fractured, “spider-web” like support network, leaving law enforcement to become the “shield”. He noted that Hillsborough County has adopted a co-responder model, with 6 clinicians available to help with diagnostic and case management needs, which is advanced-thinking but still insufficient to adequately handle the more than 20,000 annual calls. (3) This was followed by a panel discussion with: TPD Chief Brian Dugan, Sherriff Chad Chronister, Public Defender Julianne Holt, Criminal Judge Samantha Ward and State’s Attorney Andrew Warren. Impressive was how respective they were of one another and how closely they said they work together to take a holistic approach to restore the arrested back to their community. Several investments have been made and a new civil citation for juveniles for misdemeanors has been successfully implemented. The best preventative is early mentorship. Violence is up across the country, with family violence especially on the rise and gun violence way up, including for low dollar marijuana deals gone astray. A lot of support has been incorporated to assist veterans with conflict and anger management. The Sherriff is strongly recommending mental health counselors in schools to help curb violence and build coping skills. He believes in developing public trust through transparency (body cams, social media, reporting, etc.) (4) Our last speaker was Chief Barbara Tripp of Tampa Fire Rescue, who gave an interesting report on how after only 5 months in her new role, she has been working to bring updated technology to the fire department to improve dispatch, tracking, and medical equipment as well as reduce injuries. She is also working on improving diversity, equity and inclusion.

Tampa Police Department Training Academy

After lunch, it was short bus ride over to the 34th Street joint police and fire Training Center, where the group was split into three cohorts to: (1) chat with a bomb unit, (2) meet a canine unit, (3) visit with the marine unit, (4) engage in a virtual confrontation training session to test our reactions and quick decision-making, (5) squeal around in old cop cars making high speed J-turns and car chases with sirens blaring, ending with a (6) watching a SWAT team demonstration, performing for us and the newly graduated officer class. Very exciting! And hot!

Lowry Park Zoo

Returning to the brand new pavilion at Lowry Park Zoo for a Cinco de Mayo themed “debrief” was delightful. The food and beverages were yummy but the hit of the evening were the adorable animals, including: Felicia the Sloth who true to her nature, remained hanging upside down in her carrier, Max and Ray the macaw, buddies, plus the most adorable female porcupine, who would raise her head when prompted by a wand that looked like a red lollipop, with the less adorable red snakes closing the evening.