A New Perspective – 07-01-2004; Sheriff Department

July 1, 2004

Golden Gate Gazette

Every state selected two individuals to be memorialized in the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC. One of Florida’s individuals is Dr. John Gorrie, who is considered the father of air conditioning and refrigeration. His work changed Florida from a sweltering swamp to a highly sought place to live.
Prior to air-conditioning, Southwest Florida and the Everglades mostly attracted people who were trying to escape the law. It was the home of plume poachers, rum runners, and many legends of lawless renegades.
During the 1970s and ’80s, Southwest Florida became a hot spot for drug activity due to its remoteness and the willing assistance of those familiar with the backwaters of the 10,000 Islands.
For the most part, the crime was pretty tame and those who dealt in the illegal trades were self-respecting folks other than how they made their living. But violence infiltrated the drug trade – boats were burned, car-bombs exploded – and smuggling lost its allure because of a heavy squeeze by law enforcement. By the early 1990s, trafficking had slowed to a minor activity.
For many years, the Golden Gate Estates area was home to hermits and people wanting to just be left alone, without the “control” or services of government or law enforcement. Residents could pretty well do what they wanted, when they wanted, and everyone left everyone else alone.
As the Estates has become more urbanized, people are living closer and conflicting lifestyles are creating controversy. Residents are demanding more government services and a greater demand from law enforcement.
In the midst of this, Sheriff Don Hunter presented commissioners with a $139 million budget, some of which more fully addresses the increasing enforcement needs of Estates residents. He makes a pretty convincing case of why he needs more money to cater to this area, but is taking a beating from county leaders as to why he needs so much money to accomplish better law enforcement when he already is doing a stellar job.
While this argument is taking place in the public arena, a quadruple murder scene is discovered off Randall Boulevard, and low and behold a marijuana grow house is discovered at the home.
Within a few days, the Sheriff’s Office uncovers three more grow houses and the need for additional money for the Estates law enforcement is pretty well proven for him.
The kind of individual associated with modern day grow houses isn’t like the smugglers of the old days. There is big money to be made and these houses are attracting a much more dangerous clientele, oftentimes connected to organized crime that extend far beyond Collier County. The stakes are much higher and taking a life, often in a very brutal manner, is the way to make a point and a method to make sure profits continue.
If ever we wanted to see the sheriff’s budget expanded for more manpower for this community, this is the time. He has a plan to be more proactive in the Estates as the population grows so rapidly. The huge mass of land requires more deputies per capita because of its size and a more proactive, rather than reactive, approach to law enforcement.
As I said in last week’s column, Sheriff Hunter usually wins the budget battles with the county. During Tuesday’s forum, he convinced me that the budget request is sound.
If coastal commissioners want to chop the Sheriff’s budget, maybe the funds should come out of those commission districts to fund more enforcement for the Estates. Eastern Collier is demanding more, the Western folks are demanding less; it might be the easiest solution to present, or the best way to make a point.