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New Pinellas Sheriff's Captain Explains Challenges, Changes

Pinellas County Sheriff's Capt. Glenn Luben, the new man in charge of daily patrol operations in north Pinellas, including parts of unincorporated Clearwater, shares challenges faced in times of tightening budgets and evolving technology.

Glenn Luben, the new sheriff's captain in charge of north Pinellas County, was headed down a much different path.

As a teenager growing up in Clearwater during the late 1970s and early '80s, he was starting to get into a lot of trouble.

That is, until he stumbled upon a Police Explorers program, he said. The action, excitement and non-stop nature of the job sold him.

"Had that not happened, I might have ended up in jail," he said. 

Luben, 50, who replaced Capt. Bill Hagans at North District Station in Dunedin in late December, now oversees patrol operations for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office's northern contract cities — Dunedin, Safety Harbor and Oldsmar — as well as Palm Harbor, East Lake and unincorporated Clearwater.

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He brings 27 years of sheriff's office experience and 22 years of combined active and reserve Air Force policing.

At age 19, Luben joined the Air Force police and got to see a lot of the world, with assignments in San Antonio, the Mojave Desert, Korea, Panama City and South America, where he says he caught a stomach parasite that nearly killed him. After four years in the Air Force, he became a reservist and a full-time Pinellas County Sheriff's deputy.

With the sheriff's office, he's worked in patrol operations, criminal investigations, internal affairs, special operations, and street crimes units, as well as the major accident investigations team.

During these different duties, he has seen changes in how deputies communicate and operate.

And although he's been in more administrative roles in the latter part of his career, he manages to stay connected to the action while remaining mobile.

An earpiece rests next to his left eardrum. The sounds of dispatchers and deputies echo through it, keeping Luben constantly looped into law enforcement efforts throughout the county.

In his new position, Luben is beginning to identify areas for accountability and efficiency.

He's spent the last few months learning his new position and all 150 people who work under him, and says the people who've worked with him before know what to expect, but some, he said, are getting used to his no-nonsense military style.

Luben pointed to several years he spent working in the Sheriff's internal affairs office, a branch that conducts investigations into allegations of fraud or wrongdoing by deputies. He said keeping the public trust is of the utmost importance.

"If we can't keep people safe, there's nobody else to call," he said. 

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Although, deputies are human, too, he explained. In recent years, budgetary restraints have pushed them into juggling responsibilities and working overtime so as not to compromise public safety.

"We're still keeping the crime rates down and the arrests up," Luben said, "but it's coming at a toll."

He said personnel cuts that the sheriff's office has sustained over recent years will have a long-term effect on deputies, their families and their health. 

"Yes, in a perfect world, we'd be staffed back up," Luben said, pointing to 41 immediate vacancies for which they are authorized to fill. However, because of a lengthy, but vital, training process for new recruits, it could take many years to get to optimum levels.

Luben also highlighted generational challenges, explaining that as 21st century technology helps the department become more efficient, the benefits of face-to-face interaction are lost. 

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He reminisced while giving a tour of North District Station, pausing in an empty locker room — a relic of the past. Deputies once had to come in for daily briefings, but today's technology allows them to clock in from the field and receive updates in an instant. 

The practical jokes and bantering between deputies in the locker room fostered invaluable camaraderie, he explained. That doesn't happen much anymore, he said.

Deputies report for roll call once a week. 

"We've done a pretty good job of making due with what we have," he said.

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