During the budget discussions Thursday night, Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros moved quickly to remove any funds dedicated to Community Police Officers on Fort Myers Beach. She’s been against the idea from the beginning and had two other council members ready to back her move.
Despite a plea from Bonita Springs councilman Jesse Pardon that Community Policing works, Hosafros, Mayor Ray Murphy and Councilman Bill Veach voted to remove the item from the budget while council members Dan Allers and Jim Atterholt voted against removing it. The cost for two Community Police officers, which is a service provided by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, is $240,000 per year.
Right now LCSO provides 2 LCSO 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. What that number increases to is unknown. 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 all the time.
Councilman Jim Atterholt was beside himself when the other three members removed the item. He said the recent shooting on the beach, the stabbing of Librarian Leroy Hommerding and other recent crimes have become a distant memory. He pointed out that the town Public Safety Committee voted 6-0 in favor of at least two Community Police officers. Public Safety Committee member Jim Knickle, a former police officer, said the town needed 4.
Atterholt also pointed out that Sanibel has a 24-person police department while Fort Myers Beach has 2 LCSO deputies. Hosafros mocked Atterholt saying not all 24 worked at the same time.
Mayor Murphy, who last week said he would consider adding community police officers for the residents on the beach, if LCSO added 2 more deputies, for free, to the regular beach patrol. Murphy said he heard nothing from LCSO on his idea. He also didn’t say he reached out to LCSO to ask them about his idea. Murphy has always believed it’s the responsibility of LCSO, not the town, to provide the correct level of coverage, whatever that is.
Regarding the Community Policing program specifically, 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 Pardon saying, “that’s comparing apples to oranges. We are no way like Bonita Springs was at its worst. I’ve been here a lot longer than he has.”