My 2009 Ridealong with Pinellas County Sheriff Komar

Years ago, I posted this commentary to Facebook. Today, I decided to include it in my personal blog. I thought my observations were worth sharing again.

Riding with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office: We see them on the roadsides, lights flashing during a traffic stop. We see them in parking lots of stores, with some unfortunate loaded into the back of a cruiser. Our law enforcement officers. They are all over town but their activities may seem mysterious to those of us who don’t mix with law enforcement activity. I had a chance to get some insight when I rode an eight-hour shift with one of the officers from the Pinellas County’s Sheriff’s Office.

I drove with Corporal Dennis Komar, an officer experienced in community relations as well as patrol and training other officers. We started out from the Sheriff’s Office in Dunedin, driving around Northern Clearwater/Countryside. As we drove, Corporal Komar kept an eye on his surroundings and an ear on the radio chatter. Into his laptop, he entered the plates of many cars around us and received back an audible report on the make, model, year and color of the vehicle that matched that license along with a comment on the validity of the owner’s license and whether there were warrants out for the person.

As we drove around the Countryside area, he got a call of a robbery in progress and headed toward State Road 580 near US 19. By the time we arrived, two officers were questioning a man in a parking lot. The questions were typical. Who are you, where is your ID, where have you been, where do you live? The officers were cool, calm. The man being questioned poured with sweat. He denied any theft.

“I live in St. Petersburg. I’ve been down here looking for work but I’m not finding any,” he reported.

He had been out of prison for nine days. He did not have his ID with him. He was somewhat frantic. The officers were soothing but in control.

The man’s identity checked out. The officers can run his identity on their laptops and compare his appearance with a photo. The employee from the store where the theft took place couldn’t positively identify the man and so they let him go. He made tracks out of the parking lot and across US 19.

We took to the road again. There were not a lot of calls and most of the incidents were minor. Corporal Komar told me, “A lot of days are like this until later at night. When the bars close at two a.m., it gets busy. Holidays can be rough with domestic disturbances. There are more calls on the weekends.”

Second Call: Traffic Accident in Safety Harbor

He got a call about a traffic accident in Safety Harbor and off we went. We were the first on the scene. No one seemed hurt so it was a matter of getting the facts and filling out forms.

The two drivers were a middle-aged gray-haired woman and a young, slender Hispanic man. No one looked happy but everyone maintained good manners. Corporal Komar questioned the two about the accident and made an adjudication. He wrote the young man a ticket and called for a flatbed tow truck for the Honda driven by the woman. The young man was joined by a friend and together they pushed the ruined Hyundai toward home.

Third Call: Domestic Disturbance

We were just headed for a meal break when we heard about a domestic disturbance, a 911 call where the caller abruptly hung up. We arrived to find a tall woman officer on the scene in a trailer park just off US 19. We heard that the suspect had left and boarded a PSTA bus. Cpl. Komar took off in pursuit of the bus, which we soon learned was headed to Countryside Mall. When we arrived, two other officers had taken the suspect off the bus and placed him in the back of their cruiser. The woman officer arrived and questioned the suspect.

“She’d been drinking and was slapping me around so I left,” he claimed. The officer shined a light on his face. There were no marks.

“Your girlfriend has a swollen bruise on her hand and you have no marks on your face,” she responded evenly.

“She must have hit herself in the hand to make that mark,” the man replied.

Since there were marks on her and no marks on him, the officer went with the girlfriend’s version of the story and read him his rights. He had just violated his probation and was going back to jail.

“I’ve been to calls at this trailer before. It’s usually the woman who’s drinking,” Corporal Komar told me.

I asked him, “Is it often the same people over and over again that you are dealing with?”

He said yes.

“If it weren’t for drugs or alcohol, how much would the demand on law enforcement reduce?”

He thought about it for a moment. “It would probably drop sixty percent or more.” (A deputy in Texas once estimated eighty percent.)

Fourth Action: Drunk Man on McMullen Booth

We finished up the shift with one more encounter. As we cruised down McMullen Booth, we suddenly passed a long, lean man hitchhiking and weaving very close to traffic. We U-turned and came up behind him. Cpl. Komar parked, flipped on his lights and took the man away from the street to run sobriety tests. The man almost fell over during one test.

We soon discovered that the man had earlier been taken to the ER passed out drunk, where his blood alcohol concentration tested at .275 (.08 is the legal limit for driving). Since he had no one to come get him, that meant spending the night in protective custody. He could leave without charges when his blood alcohol level got low enough. Corporal Komar processed the paperwork while we waited for a Sheriff’s Office van. At a few minutes before 11 P.M., the van pulled up behind us. The driver loaded the drunk in the back and took off.


We headed back to the station where Corporal Komar dropped me off. We shook hands and I headed home for the night. I was suddenly tired but I’d been too busy learning to feel it till then.

I’d learned that what these officers do falls under the heading of law enforcement but it’s not just catching criminals. It’s also helping reduce points of friction between citizens, expediting points where society needs help to make transactions flow, like in the traffic accident.

It’s calmly defusing an emotional moment like the questioning of the fellow who was being suspected of theft.

It’s making the best snap decision you can, based on the testimony, physical evidence and corroboration you can acquire on site. That decision is likely to send someone to jail or at least cost them money.

It’s knowing and applying the law accurately. Corporal Komar checked Florida statutes more than once before acting.

It’s making sure that citizens don’t get hurt due to their own disabilities, like the management of the drunken man.

I saw that the citizens involved in each of these cases may have been defensive or knew they were in the wrong, but they were not afraid of arbitrary abuse by these officers.

I saw that the system to manage these breaks in society’s smooth flow can actually work pretty well. Where the overall system fails is that there is no reliable facility or service to help each of these people in trouble correct their behavior, win in life and leave substance abuse and failure behind for good. If there were, the same handful of people would not make police contact over and over. These people would ideally find the answers to their problems and gain control of themselves and their futures.

When we establish the services needed to rehabilitate these citizens who are struggling with despair, substance abuse or failure, we will have achieved a more stable, more secure world in which we all can thrive.