Editorial: HCSO Ride-Along

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Meeting HCSO patrol staff

On Saturday, December 30th, I met Sergeant William Hillman and Deputy Michael Renczkowski of the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office for an evening ride-along.

Pictured here: Sergeant William Hillman, Photo: HCSO

After introductions, and prior to the start of the evening’s patrol shift, Hillman addressed his deputies.

The discussion focused on various national, state, and local issues ranging from the recent phenomenon of “swatting,” false calls designed to mobilize SWAT units, to a refresher on Baker Act statutes, to local “be on the lookouts” for suspects that recently earned probable cause affidavits.

The deputies around the table paying close attention to their sergeant all appeared to be in their 20s.

HCSO deputies are driving aging patrol vehicles while they wait for new replacements

One deputy, coming in from a patrol shift, ate his meal out of a Tupperware dish, and lamented about the status of his patrol car, a car that had over 200,000 miles on the odometer. His service vehicle also had electrical issues, a headlight harness fortified by electrical tape, and a major radiator fluid leak so bad that the vehicle had to be towed in. Other deputies around the conference table chimed in about knowing other patrol cars that had over 200,000 miles on them, hopeful that they would soon gain access to one of the 40 patrol cars that were slated for purchase.

The particular patrol car that Renczkowski drives had about 133,000 miles on it.

It also smelled like marijuana from a recent bust. He apologized a couple of times and used air fresheners in an attempt to mask the odor. He shared that during a recent domestic disturbance call, he found 176 grams of weed in ‘plain view,’ a commonly-known legal threshold required to add additional charges outside the scope of the original call.

Why Renczkowski joined HCSO

Pictured here: Deputy Michael Renczkowski, Photo: HCSO

Renczkowski grew up in Spring Hill and originally had plans to join the military but after high school realized that he wanted to start a family. Last year, he graduated from St. Leo University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice, joined HCSO, and got married. He’s 23 years old.

He recalled his first four months of patrol training which involved learning from four separate field training officers.

Renczkowski is not yet radar-certified, and as a result, most of his patrol duty focuses on faulty equipment, erratic driving behaviors, dispatched calls, and on-scene back-up. He also patrols local businesses, paying attention to the integrity and status of windows and doors.

The calls started to come in

The first call during the ride-along sent us to Nantucket Cove, an apartment community where an older, white Camry was parked with its headlights left on, arousing suspicion. When we arrived on-scene, after searching for a few minutes, the suspicious vehicle was spotted.

The deputy interviewed both the driver of the car and the neighbors that called in the tip. He took time with the driver, inspected the driver’s license and registration of the vehicle, and discovered that the vehicle was owned by another person. By asking a few more questions, Renczkowski ascertained that the driver had drove himself home from the hospital and was simply fatigued. The vehicle was registered to a family member and the driver correctly named the registered owner. The headlights were turned off, the car was re-parked and he went back to patrolling.

Minutes before responding to the call, we had driven through the Best Buy shopping plaza only to have dispatch notify him that a loss prevention manager at Best Buy observed three men acting suspiciously in the store. Two other deputies met us on-scene. One of the three men left the store without incident prior to our arrival. The other two men were still in the store, shopping, but acting confused. Both men were interviewed, purchased their products, and left the store without incident.

Observed traffic stops

The first traffic stop observed was for a bad headlight. Using the laptop in the cruiser, Renczkowski discovered that the person pulled over had a suspended license. The deputy, again, took a few minutes to do additional research, discovering that the suspension only took place on December 12th. After asking the driver if he knew his license was suspended and receiving ‘no’ for an answer, the driver parked the vehicle in a church parking lot and walked the remaining few blocks to his destination on foot assuring the deputy that he would take steps to fix the situation.

The next traffic stop, also inspired by a bad headlight, took place blocks away from the driver’s residence. The driver was unaware of the situation and assured that the headlight would be fixed. A warning was issued.

It quickly became apparent that he deputy assigned to me was highly educated, trained, and sought to resolve field situations, without issuing tickets or seeking to arrest, if at all possible.

A little later, a different deputy pulled over an older Jaguar near the end of the ride-along, finding the driver in possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana. The driver truthfully answered the questions asked by the patrol officer, and instead of booking and arresting the offender, the deputy issued a notice to appear to court.

Again, with another young deputy, HCSO’s patrol training was on display.

During the ride-along, a warrant arrest

The highlight of the evening was a warrant arrest.

The whereabouts of the offender, who had an open arrest warrant for violation of probation, was received by HCSO personnel. Multiple units coordinated a strategy, waited for a K-9 unit to arrive on-scene, established assigned roles, and arrested without incident. Ironically enough, Renczkowski had arrested the same offender previously.

All of this took place in less than a two-hour time span.

I have had the pleasure to observe several law enforcement agencies over a 25-year span from high school internships to my role as Chairman of Alachua and Gilchrist Crime Stoppers to the Publisher of this paper. HCSO is an organization that not only trains its patrol officers how to protect the public; and each other, but also trains deputies how to treat citizens with respect and humility.

It is obvious that Sheriff Al Nienhuis, HCSO command staff, Sergeant William Hillman, HCSO FTOs, and others, have focused on training the new generation of patrol deputies.

The results of such training were clearly on display during the ride-along.

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