Sergeant Tony Spina starts his ‘workday’ at 6 pm and answered our questions in between managing the night shift patrol of the island under a full moon. The former Officer of the Year dedicated himself at the outset of his career to fighting for the underdog. Just don’t call him if “window surfing” your thing. Intrigued? So were we, and Sergeant Spina shares the backstory herewith:
Q: For those of us who are fuzzy on the finer details of rank, what are a sergeant’s duties, generally?
A: A sergeant is rather like a manager. I’m in charge of a shift on patrol. I respond to calls and make sure the patrol officers have everything they need to perform their tasks. I schedule leave for those on shift, disseminate information to the shift officers and help determine any training that officers may need to attend. I also still work in a zone and perform the same duties as any other officer.
Q: Were you named Officer of the Year at one point?
A: Yes, I was Officer of the Year in 2009. I had to buy a lot of lunches to get it (joking); I was really surprised to get it and was very humbled.
I wish there was more than one officer of the year because my fellow police officers at this department are awesome.
Q: How long have you been with MIPD? What did you do prior to joining?
A: I was hired in 2008. Prior to coming to Marco Island Police Department I worked for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office for four years. Before the sheriff’s office I was a police officer in the great state of Ohio.
Q: What drew you to police work in general?
A: I’m an underdog at heart, and I wanted to help people who were being taken advantage of by the wolves of society.
Q: Describe the strangest case you’ve been involved in here:
A: I haven’t had a really strange case here on Marco, but when I was with the sheriff’s office I was dispatched to an apartment because someone had called in a burglary in progress. When I arrived I was met by the caller, who stated someone had tried to break her door down. Looking at the door I could see no signs of any damage. I made a report and cleared the call.
A few hours later, I received the same call from the same address. As I was driving to the apartment, dispatch explained that the caller just dove through the second floor window in an attempt to escape from the supposed burglar. I arrived on scene and ran to the second floor apartment where I found the front door still locked and undamaged.
As I walked the perimeter, I shone my flashlight at the second floor window and could see a hole in the screen where someone had jumped. We were about to call out the aviation helicopter when the woman called out from under a bush. Sure enough, she’d jumped out the window, and even landed on her head. Under lots more questioning it was apparent that this individual was having mental problems, because she not only thought there were two people trying to break into her home, but she added that her whole apartment was covered wall to wall with ants.
Q: Describe the most moving experience you’ve had doing police work (here or elsewhere):
A: In Ohio, another officer and I dove into a lake trying to find a swimmer. The call came in as a boy drowning in the center of a lake. I arrived on scene first, with another unit right behind. I asked witnesses where on the lake the swimmer was last seen. The victim’s family spoke only Spanish and couldn’t understand. They just pointed to the center of the lake.
I took my gear off and jumped in, along with another officer, and swam to the center of the lake. Once we reached the center we dove to the bottom, about 15 feet down. We could not find the boy, and unfortunately our rescue attempt turned into a body recovery.
It was hard seeing parents who just witnessed their only son drown right in front of them. This job has a lot more mental trauma than the general public knows about. People think the job is like the reality show, ‘Cops,’ all the time.
We, the police must respond to every death that occurs in our jurisdiction, either by accident or natural causes. Police officers don’t do this job for the money; we do this job because we want to help people.
Q: Do you live locally? If so, do you have any family or community involvement I could mention?
A: I do live locally, and that was the main reason why I left the sheriff’s office. I wanted to work in the city where I live. I have a beautiful wife and two great kids!