Oftentimes seasoned Highlands County Deputy Robert Gunthorp may encounter more cow pastures, citrus groves and trees than people.
But on a recent shift in Avon Park, Gunthorp had no problem finding people. He dealt with arguments between groups of women, stopped drivers for traffic infractions and helped look for a robber.
A little over a year ago, however, Gunthorp would have been only patrolling rural areas of the county. That's about the time when the Highlands County Sheriff's Office took over most of the law enforcement in Avon Park. The city retained a small department for public safety, but it mainly deals with code enforcement.
Although generally Gunthorp says he responds to calls the same way, regardless of whether he's in the city or the county, there's a difference, he said.
"There's definitely more of a concentration of people (in Avon Park)," he said.
Gunthorp added that every time he patrols in Avon Park he dealt with more traffic crashes. And that led him to watch carefully for traffic infractions, even the more minor ones, such as failure to have headlights on at dusk.
As the second year of the arrangement began this week, very few people had anything negative to say about the change.
Keith Dauffenbach, a resident, said he's seen no reduction in law enforcement protection since the change.
"I see them go by my house every day," Dauffenbach said. "They seem to be doing pretty good. When there was an incident in my neighborhood, they (deputies) were there very quickly, so I'm pleased."
Highland County Sheriff Susan Benton said she believes the situation has worked out well for both the city and the sheriff's office.
"Operationally, it has gone smoothly," Benton said. "We have received tremendously positive feedback. Residents thank us for the job we are doing."
Mayor Sharon Schuler agreed that the arrangement has been to the benefit of Avon Park.
"I think the sheriff's office is doing a fantastic job," she said. "I've had a lot of citizens come to me and tell me they're pleased."
She said the people have told her they have good law enforcement coverage.
Benton said the sheriff's office has committed that two deputies will be on duty at all times within the city limits of Avon Park, except in the case of an emergency during which they would be critically needed elsewhere.
But it works both ways. In most situations, if needed, Gunthorp said, other deputies working in the northern part of the county could easily assist with a situation in Avon Park, if necessary.
With city and county officials believing the situation has worked out, a new agreement was signed this year, stating that unless the parties negotiate something else, the maximum cost increase could not exceed 3 percent per year over the original cost of about $983,000 per year.
The agreement in hand, Avon Park expects to save $247,000 in 2013 and $604,000 in 2014. That was a major factor in the change, officials said.
For some, the saving in costs isn't the only benefit. Councilwoman Brenda Giles said a lot of residents have told her they believe the deputies do a better job.
"They are saying the policing is much better than what it was," she said. "They treat people like human beings."
Gerald Snell, who serves as chairman of the advisory board for the Southside Community Redevelopment Agency, as well as managing a funeral home business, said the "deputies are very professional and they don't harass people."
When the Avon Park Police Department existed, he recalled, he responded to a call about a death at 2 p.m. in the morning. He said he was driving a hearse when police stopped him, asking a lot of questions about why he was out so late and where he was going. They also searched him and his vehicle, he said.
"I'm glad they're gone and we don't need them back," he said.
Robert Smith, another resident, who lives near Snell, said he believes the Highlands County Sheriff's Office is doing a wonderful job.
Smith said he couldn't go to a store without Avon Park police officers harassing him for doing nothing. But that isn't the case with the Highlands County Sheriff's Office, he said.
"The best thing they did was get rid of them," he said.
Gunthorp indicated that he believes one of Sheriff Benton's goals in Avon Park was for law enforcement to treat people with respect.
In one situation that occurred during the recent shift, Gunthorp responded with patience and listened to what people had to say during a dispute. The situation involved one young woman being accused of sending nasty texts to another woman and the mother of the recipient supposedly threatening the texter during a meeting with her mother. In turn, the mother accused the texter of pushing her.
Gunthorp worked to get the women to calm down rather than pressing charges against each other.
No one said they felt that Gunthorp and other deputies were doing an inadequate job. But Jim Lewis, an employee of a gun shop, said he feels most or all involved in the business wish the city had its own police department.
"It was nice to know they were down the street if we needed them," he said.
But Highlands County Sheriff's Office officials say they are also down the street, operating out of the former police building. The office also has a records division where people can get copies of reports without having to travel to Sebring.
Dr. Dennis Mungall and his wife, Cindy Mungall, who own businesses in historic building on Main Street, say they feel the sheriff's office provides good protection.
"The coverage has been very good," Dr. Mungall said. "They're doing a good job."
Despite the change apparently going well in Avon Park, Sebring officials seem to have little interest in going in that direction.
Sebring City Councilman Andrew Fells said that if the city ever considered that, such a change wouldn't get rid of the city's main liability, pension payments.
Fells indicated that he has no plans to propose the change, saying the Sebring Police Department "does an excellent job protecting and serving the city."