Cpl. Keith Krapfl, left, speaks with Dade Oaks resident Sandra Hyman on Monday in Dade City. Officer Krapfl has returned as Officer Friendly - a position he held for six years - after Cpl. Mary Guyer was transferred to the sheriff's Crime Prevention Unit. CHRIS URSO/STAFF
DADE CITY - Last summer when they heard they might be losing their beloved Officer Friendly, Dade City residents rallied around Cpl. Mary Guyer, packing the historic courthouse to plead for the funding to be reinstated.
Commissioners listened and worked out a compromise with Sheriff Chris Nocco. They wouldn't reinstate the full grant, but they increased the amount to $84,000 - enough to split the cost of the Dade City officer with Nocco's department.
Now Guyer is gone - transferred to the sheriff's Crime Prevention Unit - and her replacement, Cpl. Keith Krapfl, hopes his return to the Officer Friendly role lasts longer than a few months.
"They approached me and asked was I interested in filling the position, possibly until October," Krapfl said. "I don't know if the grant will get renewed."
Nocco is threatening to eliminate one of the positions - the second Officer Friendly, Cpl. David Hink, is based in Lacoochee - because the $84,000 grant covers only the cost of one officer.
"With no change in the level of funding we receive from the grant, we will be forced to reduce this program down to only one position," Nocco wrote in a letter to Commission Chairman Ted Schrader.
For years Pasco allocated $112,130 from its Community Development Block Grant to pay for two positions. The sheriff's office paid anywhere from $26,000 to $40,000 in matching funds to offset the cost of the program. This year the sheriff's portion jumped to $56,372, and it could go even higher in fiscal 2014 if the county doesn't contribute more.
Schrader said he believes the board is committed to keeping both officers. "They're doing such an important job, and it would be disingenuous for us to not continue that funding after we agreed to last year," he said.
But Schrader questions why Nocco's budget request is $168,600 when the actual program cost is significantly less. Over the last five years, the total cost for the two officers has never exceeded $153,000, according to the sheriff's budget office.
"That doesn't make any sense," Schrader said. "It's strange to me that all of a sudden it's become such an issue, but that's why we have budget workshops."
For Krapfl, the uncertainty makes his transition more challenging. Fortunately for him - and the four neighborhoods he is assigned to - Krapfl is covering familiar ground. He spent six years as Dade City's Officer Friendly before transferring to the patrol division in 2009.
"I ran into a couple of kids from my early years who are like, 18 and 19 now," he said. "There were about 7 or 8 who I got close to. They still call me 'Friendly.' "
The first go-round, he said it took a year for the residents to warm up to him. A native Spanish speaker - he was born in Panama - Krapfl added Diaz to his name tag.
"That helped with the Hispanics," he said.
He subscribed to the first piece of advice he ever got from a former "Friendly" - to always keep a bag of lollipops in the car. Before long, he was organizing Madden football tournaments and field trips to MOSI.
"I used to get a bus and get a bunch of lunches from the jail, and I'd load the kids up and take them out," he said. "They just want to get out of Dade City. They were happy to go to a state park where they could just hang out and throw the football."
He went to baby showers in Tommytown, hosted yard sales in Dade Oaks, and got soaked in a dunk tank.
"He is very good with our children," Dade Oaks resident Sandra Hyman said as they planned a field trip to see the new Superman movie.
Krapfl made sure to pay a visit to Margarita Romo, executive director of Farmworkers Self-Help, last week. Romo said that having an Officer Friendly who speaks Spanish benefits the Tommytown area.
"One of the reasons we need Officer Friendly here is to be a role model," she said. "We need a man. A lot of kids don't have a dad at home, and they can see him as a safe person. He can also teach them about responsibility."
Krapfl said he's excited to be back. "When you leave the job, you see it from the outside in," he said. "Now that I'm back, I have a whole list of ideas I want to try."