SARASOTA — “The thing is, you prepare long before hurricane season,” Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said. But things turned serious Saturday.
DiPino called in the 150 or so officers under her command, as well as emergency and civilian personnel, with instructions to bring enough clothing, food and water for three to five days — up to a week, if possible. Everyone would be staying at the Sarasota Police Department headquarters, sleeping in improvised dorms and offices, and eating there as well, without expectation of getting home for at least three days.
The department normally oversees a population of 54,000 full-time residents, but the number riding out the storm is difficult to estimate. While some have evacuated, predictions that the storm would hit the east coast of Florida sent droves of people to Sarasota.
The chief was the first to move in, bringing a blanket, pillow, food, clothes “and Cheer to scrub everything out in the sink if I need to,” she said. “And deodorant. It’s challenging when you have a lot of people in a small area and you start to get weather-weary.”
In some ways, the storm has made policing difficult — many businesses and homes are unattended, which makes them attractive targets for thieves. Police are stationed at critical places to protect services and valuables from looters, said the chief, declining to give too much information, out of concern it would give thieves an advantage.
But in other ways, the storm has made policing easier. “When everybody is gone, you don’t have the traffic problems. And the people who are out,” she said, “you address them because they shouldn’t be walking in a storm. ‘Hey! What are you doing out? The wind is 40 miles per hour!’ ”
For the patrol officers, the impending storm has changed a few routines. For safety, they partner up in their cars, rather than ride alone as usual. And there has been an unusual number of calls from out of state asking the police to force an elderly relative to evacuate (not something the police can do).
But some aspects of the job are unchanged. “The lack of people has decreased the call volume,” said Officer Devin Epps, “but I’ll say through yesterday, we were getting the same calls, same problems people can’t solve without our intervention. I have to wonder, ‘Don’t you people realize there is a big life-threatening storm coming?’ ”
— Roy Furchgott