The Orange County Sheriff's Office is currently struggling to fill all its vacancies.
HORIZON WEST – Both residents and homeowners associations located in the more affluent areas of Orange County Sheriff’s Office’s Sector 3 have been purchasing home-surveillance systems and saving money to hire extra OCSO patrols.
But it’s not a sudden increase in crime that has residents handing over their hard-earned cash, but rather, it’s the fear that a low law-enforcement presence in their area has motivated criminals to target their neighborhoods.
“There definitely doesn’t seem to be, visually, a lot of patrols in the area for proactive patrolling,” said Paul Pestrichello, who resides in Independence. “It seems to all be reactionary based on people calling to report crimes, and I think the lack of that visual deterrent and the lack of patrols kind of give people the sense that there’s not a lot of law enforcement in the area, so they’re more apt to commit these petty crimes in our area.”
The perceived lack of patrols comes in the midst of a deputy shortage that OCSO is trying to address. OSCO spokeswoman Ingrid Tejada-Monforte said because of staffing numbers, crime statistics, growth trends and economic indicators, the sheriff needs to add 200 deputies.
As of June 23, OCSO had 1,467 deputies — an increase of 48 from the number of deputies employed in June 2016. But of those 1,467 deputies, 121 are assigned to Sector 3, which includes Winter Garden, Ocoee, Pine Hills, Windermere, Dr. Phillips and MetroWest.
OCSO officials said the department handles the deputy shortage by shifting its resources to fulfill calls for services. Such a shift requires OCSO to pay overtime to several of its deputies and have specialty units, such as school resource officers, take on patrol shifts.
Officials said the shortage is because of the department’s high turnover rate and competition from other law-enforcement agencies.
“Our experienced, highly trained staff are sought after by others,” Tejada-Monforte said. “Six hundred and sixty-one sworn staff separated from the agency since 2011; 74 sworn staff left for other law-enforcement agencies in Florida since 2013; (and) 67 applicants withdrew from our process last year to take a position with another agency. Also, there are noncompetitive pay issues, and nearly all agencies are hiring — many agencies are competing locally, regionally and nationally.”
Despite the shortage, Pestrichello had no complaints about OCSO’s response times to his area — which OCSO said ranges from an average of about six to 19 minutes depending on the call and its priority in Sector 3 — but he and his neighbors have realized the criminals even commit their misdeeds in broad daylight.
Most recently, Pestrichello has heard of people with home surveillance that catch people on video smashing in car windows, people walking around the neighborhood at night checking for unlocked car doors and people slashing open screened-in porches to steal the furniture inside.
“A lot of people have pictures and videos and such of all this happening in their home-security systems and it shows that these people feel confident enough to walk around our neighborhood and just try to open cars on the street,” Pestrichello said.
The psychological effect of knowing the criminals feel that confident spurred Pestrichello to purchase a home-surveillance system, which he noticed also has been the case for several of his neighbors.
“The homeowners’ associations have had to pony up some money just to get some additional patrols,” he said. “So I think there is a sense that if we don’t start installing home security systems and paying for additional patrols, then the situation is just going to spiral out of control.”
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected]