Keeping deputies on the road, in-service, and available to respond to citizens calls has always been a primary concern of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. To that end, in 2008 our office established a Prisoner Transport Unit (P.T.U.), in the sheriff's office jurisdiction, with the goal of servicing our own deputies. The idea proved so efficient, that today the service is provided to all but four municipalities in the entire county.
The idea is a simple one. The Transport Unit is summoned to the scene where an arrest has been made, custody of the prisoner is transferred from the arresting deputy to the prisoner transport deputy, who subsequently transports the suspect to the Pinellas County Jail. At the very moment that the transfer is made, the arresting deputy is free once again and available to respond to the next call for service.
Before this system was put into place, deputies may have been out of service for as long as an hour-and- a- half while making their way to the jail and eventually returning to their patrol areas.
This year, the simple idea attracted the attention of other Pinellas law enforcement agencies. In March, we provided a pilot program for the Clearwater Police Department. Within days, they too realized its efficiencies and contracted with us for this service. By June, Tarpon Springs, Gulfport and St. Pete Beach Police Departments had done the same.
Today, the Sheriff's Office Prisoner Transport Unit provides services in all unincorporated areas of the county, twelve cities under contract with the Sheriff's Office, and for all other Pinellas County police jurisdictions with the exception of St. Petersburg, Kenneth City, Treasure Island, and Indian Shores Police Departments. The Belleair Police Department recently signed an inter-local agreement with the Sheriff's Office to receive the P.T.U. service on an as-needed basis.
The program began with eight transport vans. Now, a total of 22 vans staffed by 22 Sheriff's Office members, all of whom are law enforcement certified deputies, operate in various day and evening shifts seven-days a week, 20-hours a day. Another benefit is that these members are able to assume transport deputy roles and law enforcement roles as necessary.
The Prisoner Transport Unit is funded with monies received from the Department of Justice - Justice Assistance Grant (J.A.G.), which this year provided a total of $3.1 million dollars to Pinellas County law enforcement agencies for the purpose of improving efficiencies. Of that, $1.8 million dollars are being utilized cooperatively by the participating agencies to fund the transport system.
This is just the latest in our continuing efforts to collaborate with other agencies in order to provide efficient and responsive law enforcement service to Pinellas County citizens.