Deputy Merry raises bar with education

Published on: May 18, 2016

By PHYLLIS HODGES

Community Resource Deputy Jeffrey Merry talks about Driving, Riding and Pedestrian Safety at his information meetings this month. Bill Hodges photos.

Community Resource Deputy Jeffrey Merry talks about Driving, Riding and Pedestrian Safety at his information meetings this month. Bill Hodges photos.

When Community Resource Deputy Jeff Merry was assigned to Sun City Center a year ago by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, he made it clear that his mantra was Education and Prevention. He believes strongly that most people want to be clear on what they can do to prevent crime.

Merry is an excellent speaker and communicates with seniors skillfully. He accepts every opportunity to speak at area gatherings and maintains an ongoing dialogue with civic leaders and businesses.

When first assigned to SCC, Merry said he was going to hold information sessions about topics pertinent to this community —and he does. Each month, he personally creates a presentation to be given at four different locations and times to reach as many people as he can.

The May topic is Driving, Riding and Pedestrian Safety, in response to an upswing in accidents and pedestrian injuries. He customizes his remarks to the area and covers real situations and areas of confusion, answering questions and clarifying applicable Florida traffic law and county regulations.

He has a keen sense of humor that is evident as he relates some of the traffic violation excuses he hears, such as, “I was here before that stop sign,” and “I am old.”

The factoids he shares are informative. For example: There are 15,000 cars (not including commuters), 11,000 golf carts and 2,000 bicycles in SCC. Also good to know: SCC has the lowest crime rate in Hillsborough County. In fact, for property crimes — mostly burglaries here — the FBI ranks Sun City Center in the bottom 13 percent; for crimes on persons, it is in the bottom 6 percent. He says the percentages would be lower if the statistics covered only Sun City Center, but Wimauma and Ruskin are also included.

Surprisingly, most burglaries in SCC are committed by friends and relatives that residents bring into their homes, not by outsiders as commonly assumed. The HCSO works closely with the Community Association and Kings Point to track these individuals.

Community Services Officer Debbie Vijil mans the SCC substation for calls (813-242-5515) and drop-ins 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The District IV Sheriff’s Office is 813-247-0455. Call 813-247-8200 for non-emergencies.

Community Services Officer Debbie Vijil mans the SCC substation for calls (813-242-5515) and drop-ins 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The District IV Sheriff’s Office is 813-247-0455. Call 813-247-8200 for non-emergencies.

Since Merry considers many of the SCC burglaries avoidable, he is constantly beating the drum about locking doors (house and car), installing secondary locks on sliding glass doors, and looking out for neighbors. He always stresses that those living in SCC and Kings Point should call non-emergency dispatch (at 813-247-8200) to report anything suspicious, even if it turns out to be absolutely nothing. If a crime is in progress, call 911.

The deputy’s assigned territory includes Sun City Center, Kings Point and the assisted living facilities in this area. He also helps when needed in Wimauma and Ruskin.

Home base is a substation on the Community Association Central Campus, a location he considers less than ideal because of its low visibility and difficulty to access.

His first year, as he describes it: BUSY — but that hardly describes his accomplishments. The “education” program he initiated is unusual for community resource deputies. It is also unusual for a deputy to hold a master’s degree; fewer than 3 percent of them do. His degree is in Public Administration with a concentration in Law Enforcement Administration. (He initially had wanted to be an attorney and then decided law enforcement was a better fit.)

Merry says he likes it here in SCC and that is reflected by the considerable effort he puts into assimilating himself into the area. Even when off duty, he brings his wife and two children from FishHawk, where they live, to attend special community events. He says it is gratifying to have people tell him how they avoided a potential fraud or dangerous situation because of something they heard him say.

So what does this 40-year-old deputy see in his future? He says he plans to spend the next 20 years attaining as much rank as he can in order to retire as a colonel. Judging by his success here, that’s a reachable goal.

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