NEWS RELEASE 21-047 - SEPTEMBER 9, 2021
Several members of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office were recognized by Congressman Vern Buchanan during the 2021 Congressional Law Enforcement Awards.
Members of the Aviation Unit received Congressman Buchanan’s Dedication and Professionalism Award for their achievements over the past two years. In 2020, the Aviation Unit saw an increase of 32% in calls for service and a 19% increase in calls related to locating suspects or missing people. The unit assisted ground units with varying calls to include locating lost hikers, lost dementia patients, fleeing suspects, firefighting, and more. In 2020, the unit served as overwatch support during two significant calls for service that ultimately turned into deputy-involved shootings, and on two separate occasions in May 2020, members of the unit responded to two calls in which they helped patrol deputies make significant finds of burglary and theft suspects.
The operations of the unit and the effort it takes to keep the two Bell 407 helicopters in working order are also paramount to the unit’s success. Both aircraft require several hours of maintenance every month. Mechanics help maintain both aircraft to ensure they are always available to the sheriff’s office and surrounding jurisdictions, as needed. The pilots, tactical flight officers, and mechanics all have very important jobs within the unit. Their dedication to safety is evident, as is their work ethic.
During Thursday’s ceremony, Chief Pilot Brent Wineka, Deputy Pilot Christopher Laster, TFO Lieutenant Adam Kaskey, TFO Sergeant Samuel Lutz, TFO Detective Hayden Gallof, and TFO Deputy Mark Eve accepted the award on behalf of the unit. Also honored but not in attendance were Deputy Pilot David Bouffard, Aviation Mechanic Arthur Grassia, Aviation Mechanic Douglas Wenz, TFO Deputy Raymond Vleck, TFO Detective Brendan Keats, and TFO Radio Technician Steven Duzs. Deputy Pilot Stephen Shull, who died in November 2020, was also recognized posthumously.
The Court Services Bureau was awarded the Dedication and Professionalism Award for integrating remote technology to create virtual courtroom procedures during the global pandemic. In March of 2020, most of the in-person hearings were eliminated in response to a public health emergency posed by COVID-19. Without an alternative method to address court hearings, the Correctional Facility population would have become overpopulated, court dockets would have skyrocketed, and inmates would have no means for their cases to be heard.
Immediately, court services personnel recognized technology could empower the courts to meet core purposes and responsibilities during this global pandemic. Court services personnel made it their mission to harness technology for this purpose by reengineering opportunities and initiating a customer relations management ideology to improve access to the criminal justice system regardless of the crisis. Their goal was to create a “virtual courtroom program” inside the Correctional Facility that would closely mirror in-person hearings. Personnel then collaborated with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court Chief Judge, Court Administration, Clerks Office, State Attorney’s Office, and Public Defender to allow the criminal justice system to work for the entire community during this crisis.
In 2021, Court Services personnel facilitated more than 5,000 remote hearings within the Correctional Facility by use of the “virtual courtroom program.” The “virtual courtroom program” has been a herculean task to pare down the entire Sarasota County court system into limited space within the Sarasota County Correctional Facility. The work of this court services personnel to develop entirely new procedures to offset the effects of the global pandemic on our local criminal justice system has been extraordinary.
On hand to accept the award were Court Services Sergeant Raymond White, Deputies Dean Pappas, Neftali Santos, Mark Truskowski, and Grace Luh (ret.). Also honored but not in attendance were Lieutenant Jamesa Tose, Sergeant Don Bennett, Deputies Deb Stookey (ret.), John Albee, Daniel Schenck, Phil Lucia, Teodora Perez, Luis Reyes, John Wenzel, Rod Stewart, and Wida Law, as well as Court Services Clerk Lou Wolf.