Community Policing May Be Coming to FMB Soon

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Whenever we conduct a Facebook poll, a major issue of concern with both residents and visitors is always safety. Over the past two years, town council members Jim Atterholt and Dan Allers have been thwarted in their attempts to hire full-time Lee County Sheriff’s Deputies as part of LCSO’s Community Policing program. That could change this November.

Right now LCSO provides 2 deputies on a regular basis to Fort Myers Beach. That number increases, at the expense of Lee County, during season, busier weekends, holidays and Spring Break. The town also contracts with LCSO for additional coverage at times throughout the year, at the discretion of the Town Manager.

Community Policing is a program where the same two LCSO deputies are permanently assigned to an area, in addition to the regular rotating coverage. Those two deputies are embedded in the community. They get to know the business owners and the residents and work on specific issues a town is having. It’s a pro-active plan, rather than always being reactive to 911 calls.

The cost for two Community Police officers, a service provided by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, is approximately $240,000 per year.

In addition to Allers and Atterholt pushing for the extra protection, the Public Safety Committee recommended the town council consider hiring 4 officers.

In September of 2021 the Community Policing idea was spiked by Ray Murphy, Rexann Hosafross and Bill Veach. You may remember Murphy saying that if the town hired 2 Community Police Officers, Sheriff Marceno should throw in two more at no charge. Of course, that idea flopped and was never brought up again.

Why might the no vote on Community Policing change soon? There’s an election coming up in November. There are two spots open on the council. Hosafross is not running. And even if Murphy wins, the other three candidates favor adding Community Police officers.

FMB Town Councilman Jim Atterholt

Councilman Jim Atterholt has been a strong proponent of Community Policing. Here’s why he believes Town Manager Roger Herndstadt should hold a place in the upcoming budget for this service. “I strongly support Community Policing being part of our budget this coming year as it brings police and citizens together to prevent crime and solve neighborhood problems. With community policing, the emphasis is on stopping crime before it happens, not responding to calls for service after the crime occurs. Having the same officer’s assigned to our island every day allows them to get to know our residents and our neighborhoods in a way that helps to create partnerships. Community Policing means police become part of the neighborhood. This helps police get a better sense of resident’s needs and helps residents to develop greater trust in the police. In essence, the community joins with an increased police presence to make our island safer.”

Town Councilman Dan Allers

Despite the down vote lat year, Councilman Dan Allers still believes Community Policing would be an excellent way to add an extra layer of public safety to the island. “Paired with the dedicated officers we already have, they could potentially focus more on areas within the town’s ordinance’s that we simply do not have the resources to enforce. With LCSO already having all the tools in place to increase our public safety measures, it would only make sense to partner with them.”

By comparison, the City of Bonita Springs has 17 LCSO Community Police Officers they pay out of their budget to protect their community, plus a lieutenant. That’s all in addition to the regular LCSO officers that patrol Bonita Springs.

Karen Woodson

Candidate Karen Woodson says she is totally in favor of adding Community Police Officers from LCSO. “They truly have the history, manpower and skill set to manage this. During summer, maybe we only need one extra person; however, we need to understand what our needs are during season and hire/manage accordingly. There is nothing more important than the safety of our FMB community, residents and visitors.

John King

Candidate John King says two officers might not be enough. “I support adding up to 4 officers to those who patrol our town. If elected, as part of my fiduciary responsibility, I would work with Sheriff Marceno to apply for a federal grant called the Cops Hiring Program through the U.S. Department of Justice. The intent of this program is to reduce crime and advance public safety through community policing by adding officers. The federal government pays 75% and the other 25% is covered locally. In 2021 the Fort Myers Police Department was awarded $1.75 million.”

Patrick Romcoe

Candidate Patrick Romcoe says Community Policing should be a priority for the new town council. “My goal is to ensure the comfort and safety of town residents and guests by working with the Sheriff’s office. I’ll review the current contract, along with LCSO stats of calls for service and crime reports. Let’s also look into the federal government programs which would cover start-up salaries and equipment. If we were to allocate resources into this issue and less on apps for parking spaces, we might be surprised as to what options are available. I believe it has to be in place and ready in time for the Margaritaville grand opening.”

Back when the vote was shot down three to two, Ray Murphy said he doesn’t see how adding a couple more deputies, “checking on this or checking on that” will increase safety. He also criticized Bonita Springs councilman Jesse Purdon, who’s a big advocate for Community Policing, and attended a Fort Myers Beach town council meeting to promote it. Murphy said, “We are no way like Bonita Springs was at its worst. I’ve been here a lot longer than Purdon has.”

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