He also says investigators are stepping up efforts to solve a string of late-night home fires.
This is an edited transcript of the first half; video highlights as well as partial video/texts of past interviews are available at naplesnews.com/oneonone.
The entire 30-minute program airs today at noon on Comcast CN14.
Lytle is editorial page/Perspective editor of the Daily News.
For the next half hour we’ll get caught up on what’s going on with crime and perfect crime prevention in the Collier County community. Our guest is the sheriff, Kevin Rambosk.
And I should probably point out we’re taping this a week early for viewing at this time.
Lytle: How is it that in a bad economy the crime rates tend to do down when you would think that the reverse would be true? How does that work?
Rambosk: Well, I think that’s the million-dollar question they’ve been asking that of crime professionals throughout the nation. I read an article not too long ago, and they have no real answer for it.
But I can tell you what I believe is occurring in our community. You know we’ve lost a number of people. Our residential population they say is ... even had a slight increase, but there are a lot of individuals who used to come into the county for construction purposes, for other purposes, that no longer enter the county.
And if you remember, and if we start to go back and look at some of the types of crimes we were having with growth — a lot of the appliance thefts and burglaries of new homes being built — and since there is no construction, we’re not seeing that type of crime now.
And a lot of individuals who worked in those areas are now working in other parts of the United States. So I think, for us, we’re seeing less activity because there’s less expansion going on in Collier.
Lytle: You also have some new statistics that speak to traffic accidents and injuries and seat-belt use.
Rambosk: Oh, absolutely. And to follow up just on your last question, you know we continue to have the least amount of crimes per population for a metropolitan areas in the state of Florida. So there are only 10 counties that have a lesser crime rate than we do. That’s number one. That’s terrific.
None are metropolitan areas.
Our crime rates notwithstanding, our crash rates, we now find out for those counties with populations of 100,000 or more, we had the lowest crash rate. Our fatalities have been reducing over the last four years. And we just got information that the 2009 seat belt usage count done by the state of Florida gives Collier County a 93.7 percent rating for wearing seat belts.
That is a terrific credit to our residents, but that’s what assists in lowering the fatality rate. Because we can tell you that where we unfortunately have roll-over crashes, if you’re not seat-belted in, there’s a large fatality number out of those.
So, with our residents doing what they’re supposed to do, they are creating this low number. And I say that about crime too. If we do what we’re supposed to as a community, and most of our residents are, we all have responsibility for these numbers.
Lytle: And also in the headlines these days, we have these house fires. So far most of them unoccupied houses.
Are we looking at arson, or is this just a real bad string of luck?
Rambosk: No, we’re looking at suspicious and/or fires that have been termed arson. I don’t believe they termed each one an arson yet.
We’ve had also at least one of the last six fires that was of natural causes.
Lytle:: Right, electrical.
Rambosk:: Electrical. But all those homes were vacant, and we’ve now begun working even more closely with the Fire Marshal’s Office and local fire departments and expanding our investigative role, putting together a task force that’s much larger than what we’ve ever had before really to try to stay in front of these things.
You know, if you look nationwide, there’s an increase in arsons and particularly in foreclosures and vacant homes. We don’t want to be there. So we’ve actually just recently seen that.
If you look at the last two years, there weren’t a lot of them. And they’re just coming now.
Lytle: But they’re in Lee County too.
Rambosk:: Yes they are. They’re all over the state of Florida. But Lee County has seen their fair share in the last couple of months, and so have we.
Lytle: So, who was the most likely perpetrator?
Rambosk: Well, certainly there are a number of reasons. You always looks for a motive. Is it money? Is it ownership? Is it retaliation?
Rambosk: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. You people who want to hurt one another for a failed relationship, or for something that they’ve done to them. Absolutely.
But whatever the motive is, it’s probably more financial now because of the economy. And that’s what we anticipated. We just didn’t see it until recently.
Lytle: What do you make of the heightened national discussion and debate over immigration policy now that the Collier County Sheriff’s Office is several years into this partnership with federal authorities on picking up illegals who have offended in another way and moving toward deporting them.
Whenever you hear the debate and Arizona law is mentioned, and what the Arizona police can do, at least until the court ordered a review, what is your take on all that?
Rambosk: Well, certainly we’re much more fortunate in Collier County, because we have this authority. The Arizona law would preclude use in Collier County from doing some of the things that we do.
Lytle: Preclude you?
Rambosk: Oh yeah, yeah. If we gave up 287G and just followed the Arizona law ...
Lytle:: ... 287G, what is that?
Rambosk: That’s the federal statute that allows us enforcement with immigrations and customs enforcement. The authority that we do have is much greater than what the Arizona law proposes.
So with 287G we’re able to investigate, process, recommend to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and then ICE takes the final action about removing. We’re well over 2,500 individuals who moved from Collier County that we would have had to house in our jail facilities.
Lytle: That’s in the past, what four years, five years?
Rambosk: About the last three years.
Lytle:: But still, the one thing that your officers don’t do and in Arizona they couldn’t do was walk up to somebody and say, let’s see your papers without some other reason to have them under investigation. In other words, they can’t profile and say, let’s see your papers for no reason.
Rambosk: Right. We, as you know, we look at people once they’ve been arrested based on probable cause, either now or in the past. So if you’ve been arrested, and you caused a problem for our residents in Collier County, we can go back and say, oh by the way, we don’t find you’re here lawfully, and we’re going to petition ICE to remove you. So it’s not only current criminals, it’s previous offenders.
Lytle: OK. But in general, whenever you hear the debate about Arizona, you say, we’ve been there, done that; we’re doing it.
Rambosk: Plus, we’re doing much more than Arizona is doing, with much more authority. But remember there are only about 78 law enforcement agencies in the entire country that have this authority, and there are some 18,000 law enforcement agencies.
Lytle:: A tip of the cap to former Sheriff Don Hunter.
Lytle: Let me ask you about the budget. You’ve just come through another tough budget year. There are probably some tough budget years ahead. No, there are going to be tough budget years ahead.
Will we be able to salvage community policing as we know it? That’s the one thing people are really zeroing in on.
Rambosk: Absolutely. I mean community policing, as you know for your history in it, is more about a mind set of operation within the organization. It’s not a program. It’s not a project necessarily.
You know, I think we’re very fortunate in Collier County to have the ability to assign additional staff to assist there, but every one of our deputies and law enforcement officers throughout the county practice community policing daily.
I think what the budgets are going to be doing, is they make us look at more of the resources we’re going to have and what can we do with them.
We took a very positive approach this past two or three years, and it’s not been positive by any means. Two and a half years ago we were looking at maintaining a budget of $153 million. I certified the budget this year of $136 million. There are a number of things that have helped there.
But consolidating functions; retiring people out at the top end of the scale and not replacing those positions; absorbing everything they did. And in fact this year we’re doing more than we’ve ever done before, and we have less staff in doing it.
We’ve engaged technology. We have a brand new communication center, which doesn’t require ... you know, with the increase in calls over the years, to maintain it in that way. We have electronically routing of calls now. So you don’t have to have throughout the years an increasing number of people to add on.
We have maintained our communication staff over the last four years at the same numbers. But we’ve gotten busier. So, you know, how has that been done. Electronics certainly have been done.
So, there are a lot of things. The jail, for example. We’ve closed down the Immokalee jail center. That right now is saving us millions of dollars. When I had the choice to renew the 287G agreement or not ...
Lytle: That’s immigration.
Rambosk: Yes, because not everybody wants to do that. Even campaigning last year, for me, not everybody wanted to do that. I though that it was a critical thing to continue to keep Collier County safe and reduce dollars and costs of operations. That plays a role in all of this.
Bottom line is, we want to continue to do more. And we’ve been doing more, particularly in the area of youth relations.
Lytle:: Which is one of some of your successes. And part of the way you achieved that is you took the youth relations deputies from the schools during summer break, and you put them to work doing other things, but all still with kids.
Rambosk: Absolutely, you know in years past, we used to look at one ... you know, you build up a lot of time that you have to take off. Because in the school system, you’re not as free to take off time as you would normally be out on the road.
Like teachers. They’ve got to take the bulk of their vacations during the summertime. Well, our deputies have to do the same thing. So we wanted to make sure that they got their time away, but we also thought, wouldn’t it be great to keep contact with our young people throughout the summer? And our programming went from four to five thousands contacts with young people to fifty thousand contacts through program.
Some of them were the same young people coming to other programs. But that contact that’s regular, day to day, that’s what gives us such a great community.
Lytle: Recently we’ve seen a couple of these really bonehead house parties. I mean we used to see these, but it looks like they’re coming back. And the thing that looks different about — at least some of these new house parties — is that the people who are in charge of the houses are very young themselves — 21, 22, 23.
OK. But still, what are we going to do about that? The idea of a bunch of young people, any young person getting together and drinking ... but a bunch of them, and seeing the cops come, and maybe being tempted to drive away. I mean, yike!
Rambosk:: There are a couple of things that we’re going.
One, on the access and enforcement side. We’re working together with Drug Free Collier, putting on a lot of anti-purchase enforcement actions at the convenience store and other store levels to make sure that we’re not selling to young people. That’s one thing.
Lytle:: But if the young adults are providing the beer and everything, how do you stop that?
Rambosk: Well, we arrest them, and that’s exactly what we did in the most recent case. We had an incident up in Lee County. We had an incident in our county.
In our county they were young people under the age to actually drink legally but they were adults. And four of them were arrested for housing and holding these events.
I think we’ve made good inroads over the years with our parents in our community, saying, look — not only is this unlawful, but you as a parent are responsible. And we have local ordinances that hold you responsible for that.
Lytle: Are you holding each kid until the parents come and get them?
Rambosk: Oh, absolutely.
Lytle: Still doing that?
Rambosk:: Oh, absolutely. Nobody left that was underage to drink, unless they had a ride. And if you were a juvenile, you had to wait for your parents to come and get you.
Oh absolutely. Nobody leaves. Nobody leaves.
Lytle: Well, good luck with that. We’re rooting for you.