Carmine Marceno amplifies community outreach as year draws to a close

The Sheriff stepped up a focus on school safety, animal cruelty and deployment of new technology.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno heads into an election year in 2024, when he hopes voters keep him for a second full term. Meanwhile, he has stepped up community outreach over the past year to engage his deputies with the community they are sworn to protect.

Here are a few of the highlights from the end of the year. All photos are courtesy of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

Sprinkle squad

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office regularly dispatches the Ice Cream Response Team to schools to scoop sweets for youngsters. An ice cream truck screened with images of the Sheriff dining with area children pulls up to schools and serves goodies to winners of “Do The Right Thing” awards.

“Do The Right Thing is a highly regarded program recognized on a national level that focuses efforts on rewarding students for positive behavior, inspirational efforts, and good deeds throughout their school and community,” a December Facebook post explains.

Curbing cruelty

The Sheriff’s Department’s Animal Cruelty Task Force in December announced a major arrest after someone dumped a live Shih Tzu in a Family Dollar dumpster, wrapped in a garbage can with a rope around its neck.

Police on Dec. 18 announced Anthony Bellman on a charge of aggravated animal cruelty after surveillance footage and tracking info from a microchip. Meanwhile, the 16-year-old dog, Xyla, was taken in by Lee County Domestic Animal Services, where authorities are still trying to find her a home.

“We are one team that comes together to be a voice for the innocent, such as Xyla,” Marceno said. “We will never stop holding individuals accountable for these heinous actions here in this county.”

The Sheriff’s Office has two full-time detectives assigned to animal cruelty, who both went through special training at the University of Missouri. Meanwhile, road patrol is also trained to recognize cases to call in the animal cruelty unit. The task force in 2022 fielded a total of 4,179 animal-related calls and continued work this year. The Sheriff also has secured county billboards and works with local media. Marceno is also pushing for legislation to create a statewide “Animal Abuse Registry.”

Robbie’s run

The K-9 roster at the Lee County Sheriff’s saw a high-tech addition as Robbie the Robodog was named in January and formally welcome to the ranks. The Boston Dynamics mechanical dog can be used in risky situations. For example, it has already been used in an armed standoff with a gunman to go into a structure first and confront the suspect.

Robbie has 360-degree cameras and sensors, a thermal camera to see in total darkness and pick up body heat or fire, a two-way communication system to speak to suspects or victims, and a fully articulable arm to open doors and lift objects. He can also be used to deal with chemical spills and hazmat situations that would threaten the health of deputies.

Earlier this month, Robbie visited with residents at Six Lakes Community.

Duck tales

After years of controversy about the living conditions for ducks at the Miromar Outlets, the Estero area mall donated the four Pekin ducks to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office in December.

The birds will now live at Nan’s Ranch, a farm refuge created by the Sheriff’s Office in 2022 and named for the Sheriff’s late grandmother. The farm is run by inmate workers, also serving as a way to provide real world skills from landscaping to engine repair to ranch hand work. Deputies say the program both instills a love of animals in inmates and sets them up to find positive employment opportunities when released, which should reduce recidivism.

The ducks join goats, ponies, pigs, chickens and donkeys already living on the land. Nan’s Ranch, according to the Sheriff’s Office, provides both a place where the public can learn about animals and recognize the impacts of abuse on them.

Youngest deputies

A new Miromar Outreach Center allows deputies to interact with the community’s youngest members by an elaborate playground area at the mall. During the business holiday season, the department shares photos of children getting pinned with Junior Deputy badges.

It’s a small part of school outreach done by the department, which has 105 deputies and 8 civilian members of the Youth Services Division, responsible for the safety of 27 elementary schools, 11 middle schools, nine high schools, 14 charter schools, four private schools, and two special learning centers.

That includes a School Threat Enforcement Team (STET) established in 2021 focused on school safety. As of February, STET had completed 229 threat assessments and investigated 31 threats of violence, conducted 767 investigations and made 40 arrests.

“Last month, our STET team grew to its current size of one captain, two sergeants, four detectives, and two analysts with the sole focus of school safety,” Marceno said.

“We have also added a licensed social worker, and three mental-health focused professionals. Our social worker and team follow up and direct students at risk. They work with their parents and guardians to find what resources are available in the community. When appropriate, diversion programs like our own LCSO boxing and basketball program are used.”

Discovery ID

The investigation work in Lee County also earned some national attention. Marceno sat down with Investigation Discovery for its real crime documentary series in December and discussed the arrest of Davonta Edwards, who had been arrested the prior year for a series of carjackings in Lehigh Acres.

The episode aired on Dec. 12.

Pouring the nog

The Community Response Unit stepped into nursing homes in the region to pour eggnog and cider and to serve up some cookies for seniors. Deputies delivered gifts to residents during room-to-room visits, including a stop at Eagle Ridge Health and Rehabilitation Center.

Lock it up

As the Christmas shopping season ramped up, Marceno and Fort Myers Police Chief Jason Fields joined forces to film a public service announcement.

The Lock It or Lose It spot aired through the holiday season, encouraging shoppers to keep their vehicles locked when out at retail areas thanks to the high risk of theft.

In the ring

Marceno has promoted a youth boxing team to give young people an outlet besides crime. This month, the Youth Boxing Competition Team participated in the USA Amateur Christmas Bash held in Fort Myers.

The goal of the program, deputies said, is to train participants to be prepared for all facets of life inside and outside the ring.

Coffee with Carmine

The Sheriff has started to do regular Coffee With Carmine video segments released across digital platforms where he discusses outreach efforts and community partnerships. For example, he sat down with Sheriff’s Office PIO Nestor Montoya to promote a partnership with the Homefront Heroes organization, which helped with recovery after Hurricane Ian this year.

“We had deputies who lost their homes, their vehicles, their clothing, everything and their family had nothing,” Marceno said. “Yet still wanted to come to work, serve and do everything they could for the hurricane. Homefront Heroes literally came in and helped our own deputies along with so many others.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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