Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco discussed a number of other ongoing efforts by his agency to bolster community connection and engagement, during a Zoom breakfast meeting of the East Pasco Networking Group.
For instance, the law enforcement agency partners with local churches and organizations, such as Pasco County NAACP and Farm Share, to put on community food distributions, organized throughout Dade City, Lacoochee and Trilby, among other areas.
Besides providing food, the meetups foster opportunities for conversations with local residents — which can reveal local problems, the sheriff said.
“We’re finding out issues going on there and how we can help the community better, and really, it’s opening up dialogues with people that would never talk to law enforcement, never interact, wouldn’t call,” Nocco said.
For instance, it is through these conversations and forged partnerships that the law enforcement agency became aware of a “horrific” amount of homeless teenagers, who are either living out of cars, doubled up in another’s household, or couch-surfing, according to the sheriff.
“They are just trying to find a place to live every night,” he said.
Many of these teens don’t live in a homeless camp in the woods, or in a cardboard box on the street, Nocco said. The goal is to prevent that from happening, as they become adults.
Many of these teens are motivated to avoid having that kind of future, the sheriff added.
“They’re in a position in their life that they don’t want to go into the woods, they don’t want that,” he said.
Nocco said his agency is leveraging partnerships to help provide resources for these youth.
The sheriff also addressed the ongoing mental health and substance abuse crisis, which he characterized as “the No. 1 issue we face as a community, as a state, as a country.”
These problems have worsened amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Nocco said.
Many individuals are struggling with isolation and other hardships, he explained.
There are former drug abusers who have relapsed because they felt isolated, Nocco said.
The sheriff also noted that there’s an increase in overdose cases, which correlates with the federal government’s release of new stimulus checks.
He also warned of the dangers of fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic similar to morphine but believed to be 50 times to 100 times more potent.
“Fentanyl is killing people out there,” Nocco said. “That is absolutely a devastating drug that is changing communities because it is killing people.”
The drug’s addictive and withdrawal properties have become evident in the county’s jail system in Land O’ Lakes, too.
Nocco put it this way: “The sad part is, we have people in our jail, and as we’re trying to get them help, programs in there so that they learn trades, they learn skills…and the No. 1 thing they say is, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to get back out there (in the streets), I want fentanyl.’”
Nocco commended the Pasco community for working with law enforcement, to help improve community life.
That aspect of law enforcement support is absent in counties and cities where anti-police movements are enabled, Nocco said.
“What you’re seeing in other places across the country are people are polarizing each other and pushing away, and all it’s doing is creating division and a lack of unity,” he said.
Speaking of law enforcement, Nocco also reminded those gathered that they can do their part to help reduce crime.
People often break into cars simply by checking doors to see if they’re locked.
“If we can lock car doors, we will absolutely reduce crime tremendously,” Nocco said.
The sheriff also addressed a controversial program used by his office that involves sharing student data between his office and the Pasco County School Board.
He explained how the program works and why his office considers it a valuable tool — despite the criticism it has drawn.
Published April 14, 2021