Last updateFri, 05 Feb 2016 4pm

Memorable Christmas - Shop with a Cop

W - Shop with Cop S5000302It was all smiles as High Springs police officers, staff and area children participated in the first ever High Springs "Shop with a Cop" event at the Walmart on U.S. Highway 441 in Gainesville.

Eleven High Springs children woke up on Monday, Dec. 22, and quickly remembered they were about to be the first children in their city to take part in a program that would lead to a fun-filled and fabulous pre-Christmas Day. They were the lucky participants to take advantage of a new program sponsored by the High Springs Police Department (HSPD) called “Shop with a Cop.

Although the idea is not new, it is new to High Springs. It is a concept Officer Adam Joy brought to the department. The idea began as a spark when Joy asked permission to take two children shopping for their own Christmas gifts at his expense. When some of the other officers heard about the idea, they offered to donate money so Joy could take more than two children on a shopping spree.

“I thought if they were willing to donate the money, they should go along and see the delight on the children’s faces for themselves,” said Joy.

HSPD was already involved in raising funds and gifts for “Operation Holiday Cheer” when Joy brought his “Shop with a Cop” idea forward. Despite that fact, Acting Chief Antoine Sheppard gave the go-ahead for the interested officers to proceed with a small group of children to see if the new program would prove successful. That decision fanned Joy's initial spark into a small flame.

Once they received the go-ahead, the officers were off and running. They managed to raise quite a bit of money in a remarkably short time. They donated funds themselves, as that was their idea in the first place, but they also received donations from the High Springs Historic Society and several other private donors who heard about the project.

Joy checked back with Walmart on U.S. 441 in Gainesville, the store he had originally contacted about the program, to confirm details a few days before the children were to arrive for their shopping trip.

“I was surprised when the store's management said they would be delighted to provide breakfast for the children and would also donate a $25 gift card per child towards the purchase of gifts for each,” said Joy. “That got us to our goal of being able to offer a $100 gift amount to each child,” he said.

Knowing in advance where they were going to be shopping, some families brought their children to the store a day or two early to look for the item(s) they wanted. Some had their hearts set on just one or two treasures...a bicycle and helmet or a tablet...while others took the more is more approach. Walmart department managers were available when needed with their handy scan guns to bring a bit of dollars and cents reality to the situation. Some children had to decide which items in their cart were most important to them in order to stay within their allotted amount.

Some children sought out items not only for themselves, but also to give or share with other family members. So as not to spoil the surprise, no names will be disclosed. One thoughtful child who had chosen items for other members of his family said he was purchasing a movie because he wanted to watch it with his dad.

The children who benefited from this year's “Shop with a Cop” program were chosen at random as officers encountered them while on patrol, said Joy.

“Walmart made everything possible,” said Joy, who admits he didn't give the company much notice this year. “Next year we have been advised to apply for a Walmart grant, which we intend to do, and hope to be able to take more children along on our next “Shop with a Cop” trip,” he said.

It appears Walmart may have fanned Joy's tiny spark into a full-fledged fire as he is clearly already thinking about ways to expand the program next year.

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High Springs Christmas parade by night


HS Parade DSC 1724Photo by RONN JONES/Special to Alachua County Today

HIGH SPRINGS – The High Springs Chamber of Commerce Christmas Parade went off without a hitch at 6 p.m., just as the sun disappeared from view. More than 38 entrants participated in the 17th annual event.

Both the Santa Fe High School and High Springs Community School Bands marched and played lively music, along with several local and regional civic groups. Karate and tumbling groups, religious organizations, police and fire departments, as well as city officials, made their appearances.

Several participants tossed or handed out candy for the children who squealed in delight as each multi-lighted float passed by. Although the night was chilly, it was not windy. But most people, and especially children, were bundled up and some were sitting on or wrapped up in blankets as they watched the parade pass by.

One year of bragging rights and first, second and third place ribbons were given for the best floats, judged this year by Betty and John Gloskowski, owners of the Antique Center of High Springs, and Basti Gonzalez of the High Springs Farmers Market.

The first place float winner this year was the High Springs Historical Society, who recently received donations to purchase replacement tires for the 1928 Brockway La France fire truck, the city's first fire truck, in order to be able to include it in this year's parade. Second place honors went to the Native Nations and third place was awarded to the Kiwanis Clubs of Santa Fe (Alachua/High Springs).

Michael Loveday provided pre-show entertainment at 5 p.m. as adults and children found places on Main Street they thought provided them the best view of the coming parade. Loveday's show consisted of a unique collection of songs of faith and family titled, “Not So Christmasie Christmas Songs.” Loveday was also set up at the viewing stand at the corner of Main Street and NW 1st Avenue and was this year's official parade announcer.

By the time the parade made its way down Main Street to Railroad Avenue and turned off, children's horseback rides had been set up and children with their parents lined up in the chilly evening hours for a visit with Santa Claus in front of the brightly lit Christmas tree.

Younger children who spied Santa, excitedly ran toward him as their parents grabbed them up and explained they had to wait in line to visit with the man in red. Parents snapped photos as children sat on Santa's lap and told him what they wanted for Christmas this year or rode the ponies.

“This was a great parade this year,” said one woman waiting in line. “Between that and visiting with Santa, my daughter might never be able to get to sleep tonight. She is so excited about Christmas, she's about ready to burst,” she said with a laugh.

It seemed as though a number of people shared her excitement gauging by the laughter and broad smiles on their faces.

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Evidence of Waldo ticket quota is 'overwhelming'

WALDO – “No charges will be filed at this time,” says State Attorney Bill Cervone, in response to three recent Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigations of the Waldo Police Department. In a Dec. 11 letter to FDLE Resident Agent in Charge, Yolanda Carbia, Cervone explained his reasoning and praised the investigative team.

“The professionalism and quality of the investigation in this matter [by FDLE] was exemplary,” said Cervone.

Although several areas for improvement of the department's handling of evidence were noted by FDLE, Cervone's letter pointed out that the investigation did not reveal any missing item of evidence and no indication of evidence tampering or theft had occurred.

“Your report does not identify any person to charge with any crime, nor does your report request that this office file a criminal charge against any person, and, as such, no charges will be filed based on this report,” said Cervone.

Regarding FDLE's investigation into ticket quotas, Cervone said that after interviews with present and past officers the evidence is “overwhelming” that the “City of Waldo Police Department had and enforced a ticket quota.”

“...The motoring public believes, wrongly, that a ticket quota is a criminal offense. It is not,” said Cervone. Although Florida Statute 316.640(1) provides that “'[a]n agency of the state... is prohibited from establishing a traffic citation quota,'” it “'is not subject to the penalties provided in Chapter 318.'”

“There is no criminal penalty associated with this statute; therefore any violation of this statute may not be prosecuted in criminal court,” he said. “More importantly, from the way the entirety of Section 316.640 is written it likely does not apply to municipalities.” “As such, there is no charge available for criminal prosecution as a result of the City of Waldo ticket quota,” said Cervone.

Allegations that former Chief Mike Szabo unlawfully recorded his in-person and telephone communication with Officer Roy Steadman in violation of Florida Statutes required more deliberation on Cervone's part, but resulted in the same outcome.

Cervone noted that Szabo admitted recording conversations with Officer Steadman on six different occasions without making Steadman aware of the fact that he was being recorded. While Florida Statutes generally prohibit the intentional and unknown interception of any wire, oral or electronic communication, as occurred in this case, he said, “several other factors must be considered in determining whether criminal charges are appropriate.”

In order for the State to prove their case, they must prove that the individual being recorded had a reasonable expectation of privacy in that communication. When Szabo and Steadman were on the phone, Steadman was aware he was on speakerphone and that the entire department, other than the Chief's office, was under audio and video surveillance.

On one occasion, Steadman admitted he saw an active recorder being used in the office. “His [Steadman's] admitted knowledge that he was being recorded on at least one occasion defeats prosecution for that incident and also suggests that he knew or should have known of that on other occasions as well,” said Cervone.

In addition, an affirmative defense could be made by Szabo that he subjectively believed that he was authorized by law to make the recordings. Cervone listed several factors that Szabo could use as a defense against prosecution that would impact the ability of the State to get a conviction on charges related to his recording of Steadman's conversations.

Among those factors was Szabo's statement that his intended use of the recordings was for agency business and to “protect the agency from a lawsuit from Officer Steadman.” As there are other “law enforcement” exceptions in Chapter 934, the Chapter in question, Szabo's confusion about fine legal issues could be seen as legally credible.

“While these factors are present, this is an affirmative defense and the burden of bringing forth that defense is on the defendant and, as such, does not preclude the filing of criminal charges. They do, however, impact the viability of a prosecution,” said Cervone.

Long-time Waldo Mayor Louie Davis remarked after reading the disposition letter, “I appreciate the thorough investigation done by FDLE and the resulting letter from Bill Cervone's office. We believed all along that there was no criminal wrongdoing on the part of our police department. We believed all along that any mistakes that were made by our police department were unintentional. Former Chief Szabo always looked out for the best interests of the city,” said Davis. “We appreciate the efforts made on behalf of our citizens by the entire Waldo Police Department and wish our former officers the best.”

The Waldo Police Department was disbanded earlier in the year and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office has taken over law enforcement responsibilities on a permanent basis for the municipality.

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Candy Land Christmas parade

Alachua Parade DSC 0081ALACHUA – Families, Santa hats, smiles and Christmas music filled Main Street in Alachua on Saturday.

Alachua’s annual Christmas parade, which falls on the second Saturday of December every year, went off without a hitch and the weather outside wasn’t the least bit frightful.

There were over 50 floats that found their way down Main Street Saturday, each more interesting than the last.

Hal Brady, Alachua recreation director, stopped cars and floats for a quick word as they made their way down the street, whether they were in the parade or not.

The parade started with a convoy of about eight police motorcyclists gliding down Main Street, weaving in between one another, with their sirens blaring so loudly that children plugged their ears in discomfort. Leading the parade as Grand Marshal was Jerry Smith.

After that, everything from horses with lighting bolts shaved on their rear ends to bright pink garbage trucks rode down Main Street.

There were fire trucks dressed in Christmas décor, mascots of snowmen and reindeer, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, a guy on stilts and even llamas; the Alachua Christmas Parade had it all.

Representatives of churches and other organizations walked the street, handing out candy and balloons to the children and families who lined the sidewalks of Main Street. There was even a bus that shot out fake snow from its windows.

The Santa Fe High School Raider Regiment Marching Band was also in the house, led by band director Nate Bisco.

The top three floats were City of Alachua’s gingerbread house, Matchmaker Realty’s candy factory and Lee’s Preschool’s Candyland themed float.

The City of Alachua’s gingerbread house was almost life sized and even looked edible. Although it took first place, many favored Matchmaker Realty’s float.

Matchmaker Realty’s float depicted a candy factory with giant pieces of candy sliding down a conveyor belt. The originality and authenticity of the float is what caught attention.

Lee’s Preschool’s Candyland themed float had the nostalgia factor working for it. Their float would make anyone want to blow off the dust his or her old board game and play one last time.

“The Christmas parade continues to roll on,” Brady said. “I think it’s the No. 1 thing that the Chamber of Commerce does every year. It’s amazing.”

Linda Chapman, who did the registration for the Christmas parade, said that although the turnout was lighter than usual, it didn’t take away from the enjoyment and atmosphere of the parade.

“[The Christmas parade] went smoothly,” she said. “It’s a great family activity and the weather couldn’t have been better.”

Chapman and Brady both mentioned that next year’s parade is going to be bigger and better.

“We have great plans for next year,” she said. “It’s going to be more like a festival.”

She added they are going to start the parade earlier next year and there is going to be more preparation time to build floats than there has been in previous years.

Sam Markowitz, 21-year-old University of Florida student and program assistant for the City of Alachua’s parks and recreation department, explained that the parade was really entertaining and that the Christmas atmosphere was in full effect.

“I definitely got the holiday vibe,” he said. “I think it’s really cool that people from all parts of Alachua come to see the parade. It’s a nice representation of everyone in our community.”

Markowitz, who was born and raised in Alachua, said that the Hare Krishna Temple float was his favorite.

The Hare Krishna float featured devotees of the religion “chanting for peace on Earth.”

“It had the most energy,” he said. “Their trailer was bouncing up and down. Everyone seemed really happy.”

Brady said there is one secret that makes Alachua a great town.

“We pretty much know everybody,” he said.

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Santa Fe High School hosts annual career fair

W - SFHS CareerDay DSC 0688ALACHUA – For the second year in a row, Santa Fe High School (SFHS) hosted a career fair in its gym with some of the area’s top employers.

Students of all grades were welcome to attend and learn more about job areas they have interest in. The gym was wall-to-wall booths of everything from military careers to UF health careers and everything in between.

Pamela Gonzales, a counselor at SFHS, said that she consulted different schools in how they set up their career fairs and then adapted and modified their own to better benefit the students of SFHS.

School counselors have many roles, one being preparing students for college and career readiness,” Gonzales said. “A career fair is a natural piece to this preparation.”

Gonzales said that a career fair benefits high school students in many ways. It not only educates students about different careers and professions as well as introduces them to the largest employers in Alachua, but also shows them what to expect and how to prepare for a job interview and the education level required for different positions.

Gonzales said that she chose businesses targeted towards students of high school age and that would most benefit students who are still exploring different careers as well as students who already have an idea of the profession they are interested in.

Shelby Sapp, a senior at SFHS, said the career fair helps students get a more realistic grasp on what it is they want to do.

“You apply for colleges and think that you’re going to go into the basic fields, but then here you get to meet people and talk to them about the more practical aspects of the job,” Sapp said.

Sapp said she would like to go into the medical field, and that the different health career booths give her an insight to narrow her broad interests.

Josephine Dornbusch, a first year University of Florida veterinary student, along with her German Sheppard Kalis, manned the veterinary booth. Her booth seemed to be one of the most popular, but she said that Kalis was probably the big draw. She said she was representing the UF vet school, but that her booth focused on the veterinary field as a whole.

“I love this sort of thing. I give tours of the college. I love answering questions because when I was in their shoes, I jumped at those opportunities to ask people those questions,” Dornbusch said. “It’s a good source of information and I like to kind of return the favor.”

“It’s an amazing opportunity to help people just figure out what it is they want to do,” she added.

Gonzales believes that the career fair has a great impact on the students who have attended.

“This event is a real-life experience that can’t be created in the classroom,” She said. “Student’s awareness of careers and employers have broadened beyond the knowledge they have from the working adults in their lives.”

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