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Brooksville Police Department closing its doors. Hernando sheriff promises community quality service

BROOKSVILLE

At the Brooksville Police Department — long bustling with officers and now set to disband — boxes line hallways, desks sit empty and the interim chief sits in an office with bare walls.

After more than 100 years in operation, the department closes June 1. But Hernando County Sheriff’s deputies, who will provide law enforcement to the city, began helping the skeleton Brooksville police staff on patrol this week.

"I no longer have enough people to staff the road ... I have no detectives," said Paul Sireci, former director of public safety at Tampa International Airport. He also had a 44-year career in law enforcement and was hired in March to take over the department.

"People are leaving," he said. "They’re leaving for other jobs."

Of the 30-person staff, one retired, Sireci said. Fifteen applied for Hernando County deputy positions, with eight to be sworn in at the start of June, according to sheriff’s spokesperson Denise Moloney. The agency hired a grant accountant from the city, too, and three other people are in the hiring process for various positions. None hired by the sheriff will take a pay cut, said Sheriff Al Nienhuis. His agency has asked the Florida Retirement System about the officers’ options on their pensions.

Other officers went to nearby agencies. Four each went to the Florida Highway Patrol and Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. One each went to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and the Clearwater Police Department, Sireci said.

"These are very good police officers who can work everything from a noise complaint to a murder," he said. "To the people who are hiring these officers, they are getting very experienced, high-trained officers."

Critics of the City Council’s April 30 vote to disband the police department as a money-saving move worry that the Sheriff’s Office won’t provide the same level of service.

"I would ask that people give us a fair chance," Nienhuis said. "I know my people are dedicated to serving the city and providing a service that is as good, if not better, than what the department was providing."

The Sheriff’s Office will take over the police building at 87 Veterans Ave., as its District 1 office. It will serve as home base for about 60 employees, including at least five detectives, he said. At all times, at least two deputies will be patrolling Brooksville.

High-ranking deputies have begun visiting downtown Brooksville businesses, introducing themselves to owners and residents.

It’s an effort to "put people’s minds at ease," the sheriff said, "because our job is not just to keep people safe, but to make them feel safe."

The Sheriff’s Office will purchase about $255,000 in inventory from the department, including vehicles and various parts, weapons, ammo and other equipment, Sireci said. Of three state-owned military surplus Humvees the department had, one will go to the Sheriff’s Office and two to the Port Richey Police Department.

The Brooksville department also must transfer information — like evidence and reports — that personnel from both agencies are working to move over, he said.

Other than George Turner, who recently was dismissed from his job as police chief, Ed Tincher is the only former chief still living. Tincher owns the Lake Lindsey Mall and Deli.

"I’m kind of heartbroken over what’s happened," he said this week. Money-related strife between the department and city officials is long-standing, he said, and dates back to when he was chief from 1978 to 2008. In his opinion, the council’s bad money management led to the department’s downfall.

"Disbanding has always been a threat when there were budget concerns," Tincher said. "A police department should never be under any political influence — that’s not what their work is about — but it is."

Nienhuis, who is providing law enforcement services at a cheaper rate than the Police Department, said he is hopeful the saved funds will help the city continue to revitalize downtown.

In the meantime, he’ll continue looking for ways to connect with city shareholders and meet their needs.

"We’re going to do everything we possibly can to make it a smooth transition and make sure that the city council and the city residents don’t regret their decision," he said. "I think we are already working toward that."

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

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