MARCO ISLAND — Detective Glenn Zirgibel was awarded 2011 Officer of the Year on Friday. It was the second time he received the honor in his nine years on Marco’s police force. He also was named Officer of the Year in 2006.
The award was given by Dick Shanahan in ceremonies at Marco Island’s Police Foundation’s Lunch with the Chief at Hideaway Beach. Although Zirgibel’s selection was meant to be a surprise, he is, after all, a detective. So, he admitted, when we saw his wife and children at his table, he knew something was afoot.
Zirgibel was praised for his tenacious follow-up on seemingly unsolvable cases including the grand theft of two rings valued at $25,000. The rings were stolen from a home on Bald Eagle Drive. His investigation through prison records and pawn shops led him from Naples to Cleveland and back to Aventura, Fla. An arrest was made at an island residence last December.
Zirgibel will be retiring from the police force on March 30.
Speaker for the luncheon was Marco Island’s Police Chief Don Hunter. Numbers recently released show an increase in major crimes from 179 in 2010 to 213 in 2011. Major crimes include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and vehicle theft.
Hunter said the vast majority of the 213 crimes was theft. Those crimes also are the easiest to prevent, he said. He attributed the increase to a worsened economy and easy access to the island from larger cities on Florida’s East Coast.
Tightening budgets have forced police forces to work smarter. A small group of 8-10 percent of the population commits 80-90 percent of all crime, Hunter said. In Collier County there are 588 identified habitual offenders. Nine are living on Marco Island.
“We know who they are, where they live and will try to find them in the attempt of their next crime,” Hunter said.
Arresting those with fugitive warrants, including felons who have already committed crimes and then fled prosecution, takes criminals off the streets, he said. Collier County has 7,887 outstanding warrants including 1,700 felons. Marco Island’s police actively pursue felony warrants.
Although there are no indigenous gangs on Marco Island, gang members have been arrested here. Two members of the Honduran MS-13 Gang were arrested and deported to Honduras. The gang is notorious for work with drug trafficking, vendetta murders and a recent massacre of women and children in Honduras as a pushback against its president’s crackdown on gangs.
Hunter said new advances in cyber detection are helping the department arrest sex offenders. Currently, the Internet Crimes Against Children’s taskforce has identified 26 peer-to-peer file-sharing networks that disseminate child pornography. In the U.S., more than 1.7 million images of child pornography were downloaded last year.
New technologies can track downloaded sexually explicit material, match it with a computer’s specific IP address and identify a physical location. That allows police to get a search warrant and make an arrest.
Hunter was surprised by a gift from Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott. Scott presented Hunter with a badge honoring Lee County’s 125 years of excellence as a police department. Hunter received it for his service as Collier County’s Sheriff and as a colleague of Scott. Collier County was part of Lee County for the early part of the 125 years.