More than $10 Million. That’s the approximate cost if Fort Myers Beach were to create its own police department. The estimate comes from Public Safety Committee member Jim Knickle who worked in law enforcement for 40 years in Ohio.
Knickle is also on the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department Board of Commissioners which has a $14 million annual budget (and includes a little more than just the beach). Knickle says police departments are typically more expensive to run than fire departments.
Knickle said what Bonita Spring has done is very smart. Bonita has not created its own police department like Sanibel or Cape Coral. Bonita has contracted for 14 community police officers which gives them total access to all of LCSO’s technology and a substation right across from a busy park. They’ve basically created their own police department without creating their own police department.
Knickle says Bonita created its community policing program at about one tenth of what it would cost to create its own police force. And he says the deputies are just as responsive to the community’s needs as a police force would be. “We benefit a lot by looking at that model.”
The town council has been discussing the possibility of adding two deputies from the LCSO community policing program at a cost of about $112,000 per year per deputy. It’s been somewhat of a sell job for council members Jim Atterholt and Dan Allers. Some members of the council believe it’s Lee County’s responsibility to meet the needs of every community and if there are’nt enough deputies to cover all of those needs, the commissioners need to budget for more. Another argument, this one by the Vice Mayor, is that because beach residents can afford it, that’s not really fair to other areas of Lee County that cannot.
Knickle says adding community policing would not only enhance safety on the beach it will enhance the perception of being more safe because deputies are getting into neighborhoods and talking to residents on a regular basis. “They get to know the community, they get to know the geography and they get to know the recurring problems.”
Knickle says under Florida law you cannot have a special taxing district for law enforcement like you can for fire departments. “It would probably cost the town of Fort Myers Beach north of $10 million per year to put together a real police department. The taxation for that would be significant in order to make that happen.”