PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A recent program that helps people committing minor offenses avoid jail time is working by cutting costs at the jail, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
In 2017, Pinellas County avoided booking more than 1,700 people into the county jail through their Adult Pre-Arrested Diversion Program, or APAD, which launched in 2016.
More than 30 percent of the people admitted to the program were charged with retail theft.
As a result, offenders admitted into APAD do not face jail time. Instead, they complete community service or pay fines.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's office said in a letter released earlier this year that the program is working by cutting major costs of taking these offenders to jail. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri also says it creates consequences for breaking the law.
Some stores say they will continue to turn offenders into police no matter what.
Lesley McDaid, co-owner of One Amazing Find in Tarpon Springs, recently captured a woman on security camera stealing more than $140 of high-end chalk paint.
"It's infuriating to thing that somebody can just so quickly think that they can come into our home, which is what I consider my store, pick up whatever they feel like and walk out the door," McDaid said.
Frustrated, she posted the security camera footage on her store's Facebook page asking for the public's help in identifying her. The video got thousands of shares. Eventually, someone identified the thief and police were able to contact her.
Tarpon Springs Police said that woman was referred to the APAD program.
In the meantime, businesses in the Tarpon Springs area are now arming themselves with upgraded camera systems to combat shoplifting.
"We can't just sit back and let it happen," McDaid said.
She feels offenders need to face consequences of their actions and it's best to report all incidents to law enforcement.
"This has not been the first time," McDaid said. "I have charged before and I will charge again."
Gualtieri said most people who are admitted to the APAD program follow the rules and pay all fines.
In fact, the sheriff's office said they pay more than $17,000 in restitution last year.