Fresh face on crime scene

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Saturday, June 8, 2013

SUN PHOTO BY MERAB-MICHAL FAVORITE Ashley Handley, 22, is the first new crime scene investigator the Punta Gorda Police Department has seen in nearly two decades. He predecessor, Pat Anthony, retired in March.

Ashley Handley, 22, is the first new crime scene investigator the Punta Gorda Police Department has seen in nearly two decades. He predecessor, Pat Anthony, retired in March.

PUNTA GORDA — For the first time in more than 18 years, the Punta Gorda Police Department has a new crime scene investigator.

Ashley Handley, 22, of Punta Gorda, is young, she’s fun, and she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. (Her predecessor, Pat Anthony, retired March 1.)

‘Ashley has a fresh , new, energetic approach and the initiative and motivation to light up a room,’ said Punta Gorda Police Chief Albert ‘Butch’ Arenal. ‘ Crime scene investigation is one of the areas in the department we have been wanting to take in a new direction, and she is just the person to do it.’

While the job sometimes can require assessing gruesome scenes and blood-soaked evidence, Handley seems like the perfect person to stomach it. She has been an avid hunter since she was 10.

‘I’m daddy’s little boy,’ she joked.

Handley adores all things outdoors. As an only child, it was common for Handley to accompany her father on hunting and fishing trips. But don’t think it was dad who did all the dirty work.

‘I can gut and field dress a hog in 15 minutes,’ Handley said. ‘I am very proud of that.’

While her dad taught her the basics of hunting, working as a butcher at Publix helped her become an expert at filleting fish. However it was her experience taking classes at Edison State College Charlotte Campus in Punta Gorda that got her interested in law enforcement. Also, her mother Allison Handley is a clerk with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office.

Growing up, Handley always enjoyed watching John Walsh host ‘America’s Most Wanted’ and sitting through the show ‘To Catch a Predator.’ That intrigue inspired her to take some electives in criminology and law while pursuing a nursing degree.

‘I found myself doing better and putting more time into my electives,’ she said. ‘I was grasping all the legal concepts and having so much fun that I decided to change my major.’

After getting her associate degree, Handley applied for the CSI position on her 22nd birthday. On April Fool’s Day, she received the job offer. She started April 22, the anniversary of her grandmother’s death.

‘I thought it was a good omen,’ Handley said. ‘It seemed like she was sending me a sign.’

Handley still was pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Edison State when she applied for the PGPD position.

‘Initially, we thought she was kind of young for the position,’ Arenal said. ‘But by the time the interview was over, she had simply bowled us over with her talents.’

Handley isn’t the type to let skepticism hinder her drive. She maintained a place on the dean’s list while attending Charlotte High School and Edison, and was part of the National Honor Society while studying at Florida Gulf Coast University.

‘She is a very serious girl,’ Jack Handley, Ashley’s father, said. ‘I never worry about her. She knows her surroundings everywhere she goes, a trait I taught her because she was an only child and not one to spare.’

Recently, her skill set was put to the test when she processed the entire crime scene at St. Andrew’s South Golf Club after six people vandalized the course. Ashley’s smile was even brighter when she was covered in black fingerprinting dust after lifting readable prints off the golf carts that were taken.

All the suspects were arrested and charged with burglary, grand theft and criminal mischief after authorities said they took the carts and destroyed portions of the 18th fairway and green, the irrigation system and the fiberglass carts.

‘It was my first big, extensive investigation,’ Ashley said. ‘It was great.’

Ashley has only three more classes until she graduates with her bachelor’s degree, then she plans to become the sixth certified female police officer on the PGPD force.

‘I’m excited to be the new face of crime scene investigation,’ she said.

Keeping watchful eye on Parkside

Englewood Sun (FL) – Friday, May 31, 2013

PORT CHARLOTTE — In the eyes of a 7-year-old, a neighborhood is only as good as the playground equipment at the community park and the teachers in the local school.

Dannielle Crowley used to live in Englewood, but she said she prefers her new community of Parkside , a Port Charlotte district defined by the borders of U.S. 41, Midway Boulevard and the Fordham Waterway.

Dannielle likes spending time in McGuire Park and attending her new school, Neil Armstrong Elementary.

But while Dannielle frolics in the sand and plays on the equipment at McGuire, her father Dan Crowley is concerned for her safety. He knows the community is plagued by crime, especially burglaries and thefts.

‘We have never had a problem with safety around here,’ Dan said Thursday. ‘But I’m aware that it’s an issue.’

He was glad when he noticed the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office mobile command bus stop in the McGuire Park parking lot. Every morning, at least 16 CCSO officials show up for roll call, then scatter about the Parkside community, each combating crime from a different approach.

‘The county is investing a lot in attempts to revitalize the Parkside community,’ Sheriff Bill Prummell said in a press release. ‘We will only be able to accomplish this if we address the crime and quality-of-life issues within.’

The CCSO has increased its presence as part of a special, 17-day operation dubbed Operation Parkside . It’s designed to address problems with infractions. The street crimes, traffic and patrol units are targeting drug activity, while juvenile units are making sure youths on probation are complying with their curfews, according to CCSO Lt. Brian Harrison.

According to Harrison, authorities had issued 10 criminal citations, made 30 arrests and issued 91 traffic citations since the project began May 24, through Thursday morning.

‘Some people think they have taken it too far,’ Dan said. ‘But I think it’s a good thing — especially the juvenile checks. It keeps the kids out of trouble while they are out of school.’

Harrison said since the CCSO increased its presence, the amount of burglaries and thefts has been cut in half.

‘Normally, there will be about 15 to 20 thefts and burglaries in this area just over the weekend,’ he said. ‘Once people realize we are here, we expect that number to improve even more.’

While the land units are patrolling the streets, marine and dive units are making sure the local waterways are also safe.

‘They are clearing the waterways so it’s safe for boaters and fishermen,’ Harrison said. ‘We have been pulling up debris. We even pulled up an old car.’

In addition, Harrison said, school resource officers are going to area preschools and educating children about the perils of talking to strangers and communicating with unknown people online.

CCSO deputies also are fielding complaints from residents, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Bowe. She said the CCSO has handled more than 97 grievances from concerned citizens.

The project will conclude June 8 at McGuire Park, with a free community event scheduled that day that is designed to raise awareness of the services the Sheriff’s Office provides. Residents are encouraged to come out from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and meet members of the traffic unit, the mounted patrol, the marine unit, the SWAT team, the K-9 unit and the dive team. There also will be a bounce house and games for kids.