BROOKSVILLE — Christen Brandel said she’s frustrated with the attitude and responsiveness of the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office in light of a recent burglary at her business on Main Street.

However, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Denise Moloney said in email and telephone exchanges that Brandel and another resident did not give accurate information about response times at the meeting.

“We can assure you, and the residents in the city of Brooksville, they are, have always been, and will continue to be a priority to Sheriff Nienhuis and the men and women of the HCSO,” Moloney said.

Brandel, the owner of Panbanged Knits and Fiber Shoppe, said it probably was a good idea to disband the Brooksville Police Department because of mismanagement but the recent incident, in which a back door to her store was found to be open and had been burglarized, has given her pause.

Brooksville disbanded its police department in June 2018 and contracted with the Sheriff’s Office.

During public comment on Monday, Oct. 18, she said crime is becoming a problem in the city and said she was told that the Sheriff’s Office only had two deputies in the city instead of the promised six deputies because of “staffing issues.”

She said she realized that it was not an “in-progress” call, but she claimed it took 35 minutes for a deputy to arrive.

Over the phone, she added, she was advised that someone would arrive in 30 to 40 minutes.

Moloney said that based on the Sheriff’s Office data, their response time for that incident was six minutes and 12 seconds, not 35 minutes.

Brandel said she’s former law enforcement and can carry a weapon, and had to clear the building herself.

“I find that very difficult to believe,” she said. “It was an open door, it was a business and it was downtown.”

There have been more crimes, Brandel said.

In one case, a store was robbed in broad daylight and an empty cash box was taken, she said, and the Sheriff’s Office took 42 minutes to respond.

“If we cannot protect our citizenry, we really need to reevaluate our law enforcement boundaries,” she said.

Moloney said in that case, the actual response time was seven minutes and 30 seconds.

Another issue, the Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman added, is that calls might be reclassified higher or lower when a deputy arrives on the scene.

If there had been a robbery, there would be no delay in dispatching a deputy unless there was a time delay in reporting the crime, Moloney wrote in an email.

Brandel said, “We really need to start discussing the safety of the individuals in town. I’m not worried about it. I have my controlled carry (permit), I have no issues clearing a building, but I’m not law enforcement any more.”

Linda Grass said that Brandel’s remarks concerned her, and that as a senior citizen she was worried about the level of protection, too.

On Facebook, at about 8:09 a.m. Oct. 19, the Sheriff’s Office said, “Our District 1 deputies routinely conduct foot patrols in the City of Brooksville checking for unsecured buildings, and/or suspicious activity,” and posted 10 photos of deputies in the city checking buildings.

Sheriff’s Office statistics

According to tables provided by the Sheriff’s Office, in 2020 there were 93 burglaries, eight robberies and 239 thefts, and the average response time was 15 minutes and 19 seconds. Total calls in the city of Brooksville were 15,476, with an average response time of 10 minutes and 55 seconds.

In 2021 to date, there have been 41 burglaries, no robberies and 182 thefts reported, with an average response time of 14 minutes and 28 seconds. Total calls in Brooksville were 12,501, with an average response time of 11 minutes and 27 seconds.

“The information I have provided (in the tables) is based upon how calls were classified upon being called in to our Communications Center. Many times, a call classification is changed once the deputy handling the case obtains investigative information. Some call classifications may be upgraded and some may be downgraded,” Moloney wrote in an email. “Actual core crimes that are reported to the state (as part of Unified Crime Reports) are lower than what is shown based off of the original call type.”

Call takers cannot predict how long it will take a deputy to complete an investigation, Moloney wrote in an email, and cannot predict if other emergency calls will come in or situations such as a car crash will happen while the deputy is en route and before the deputy arrives at the caller’s location.

Council concerns

Council member Betty Erhard said it was sad to hear about the break-ins in the city.

“We don’t have enough law enforcement,” Erhard said. “That’s a huge concern.”

She added that she heard that some businesses on Jefferson Street were affected by crime, too.

Mayor Pat Brayton said that he agreed with the law enforcement situation that Brandel talked about.

“I’m just not too sure where to go with it,” he said. “We can talk with the sheriff; we can definitely ask our city manager to have a hard discussion with our sheriff. We do need to do something. My understanding was we were supposed to have three (deputies) per shift.”

Erhard noted, “That’s where the contract comes in.”

Moloney said in a telephone interview on Friday that the Sheriff’s Office has been in contact with the city manager about the city and its residents’ concerns.

In other action

• The council voted 5-0 to reject a $25,000 loan to Archway Partners for The Oaks at Candlelight. Public comment focused on issues of traffic, crime, the presence of Section 8 or subsidized housing in the neighborhood, the condition of the streets and how long repairs to infrastructure might take. No one from Archway Partners came to the meeting.

• The council voted 5-0 to approve a $36,500 loan for the Cypress Ridge development despite questions from Donna Morin, head of the city’s beautification committee, about why “low-income” housing keeps getting built in the city.

• The council voted 5-0 to hire Government Services Group Inc. to assist in the implementation of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. The city is getting nearly $4.3 million from the federal government in two tranches and sought aid in administering the money. Brayton said the city lacks the staff to do the necessary reports for getting the money, and finally agreed to pay $239,560 to the contractor. The money will come from the federal funds.

• The council also voted 5-0 to approve closing state roads for the annual Kiwanis Christmas parade on Dec. 11, and 5-0 to approve a Sponsorship Credit Request; approved 5-0 the purchase of two Jetter Vac trucks from Texas Underground; and approved 5-0 an update to the Statewide Mutual Aid Agreement.