BY SARAH NORCINI
NNB Student Reporter
ST. PETERSBURG – The laptop in Officer Bryan Rentas-Pina’s car beeped and the bottom corner flashed red.
Rentas-Pina scrolled through the information on the call: An 8-year-old boy walking home from school never made it.
The officer drove quickly to the school, where he talked to the YMCA after-school program employees there. After a call to the principal, who had left campus for the day, he learned the boy had turned up, safe.
Rentas-Pina, 31 and married, has been with the St. Petersburg Police Department for five years. He moved here from Puerto Rico when he was 12 or 13. He always wanted to be a police officer and was inspired by his uncle, an officer in Puerto Rico.
In his five years as a police officer, he said, the only injury he’s sustained was a cut thumb, which required stitches.
He doesn’t mention a brush with danger in 2014, when he and another officer came under fire during a routine call at a gas station. Rentas-Pina was getting out of his cruiser when he heard three shots and “saw the muzzle flash come toward me,” he testified a year later.
The officers escaped harm. The shooter was charged with two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.
Like many St. Petersburg officers, Rentas-Pina lives outside the city – in his case, in Tampa. About 60 percent of the police department’s 524 officers live outside St. Petersburg, and nearly a third live outside Pinellas County, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“I don’t want to live where I work,” he said. “It’s common in this job.”
The job sees him patrolling District 1, which is roughly the area between First and 54th avenues S between 34th and Fourth streets.
In his district, he said, there are between 14 and 15 officers on patrol at a time and five 10-hour shifts.
Rentas-Pina’s shift is from 2 p.m. to midnight. Officers change shifts every six months, he said. They get Saturday through Monday off for the first three months and Tuesday through Thursday off the next three months.
On most days, he does not go to many calls, he said. But on a recent Tuesday he responded to 15, which “really is a lot.”
The majority of those calls took less than 10 minutes. In nearly every case, another officer joined him. St. Petersburg officers patrol alone, Rentas-Pina said, but additional officers are often dispatched to a call.
The calls ranged from a stolen five dollars to a fight on a street. No matter the call or the outcome, Rentas-Pina had to fill out a report.
He’s done about 2,000 reports over his five-year career, he said. “I’ve probably written (the equivalent of) several books.”
At first, it was difficult to write that much because English is his second language, he said.
He does all his reports on the laptop in his patrol car. He relies heavily on the Internet, from receiving incoming calls to checking his email.
All those tasks are done between calls. Rentas-Pina usually finds a parking lot or – if he’s short on time – while driving to a call.
At some point during his shift, he said, he gets a “40 minute-food break.” During the break, he doesn’t have to respond to calls unless there’s no one else to take them.
For four years, Rentas-Pina drove his own car to the police station and switched to a patrol car for work. Now he can drive his patrol car to and from work.
An officer’s patrol car is essentially a mobile office. Rentas-Pina’s laptop is anchored to the right of the steering wheel, a shotgun is behind the front seats and a riot shield is in the trunk, which he can open with a button on the dashboard.
Rentas-Pina said that he doesn’t like to use the shotgun too much. Once he takes it out, he said, it’s considered being “married to your weapon” since it cannot be stored like a handgun.
During his recent shift, a total of five officers were dispatched to join Rentas-Pina on his calls. At times, they bantered among themselves, but Rentas-Pina said officers must always be alert. The routine can suddenly turn serious.
“Once you put the uniform on,” he said, “all lives are on you.”