The discussion over whether or not Fort Myers Beach should pay for two Lee County Sheriff’s deputies from the LCSO community policing program became heated Thursday night. And when Mayor Ray Murphy spoke up, things turned a little odd.
Council members Jim Atterholt and Dan Allers are in favor of spending the $224,000 for two deputies. Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros and councilman Bill Veach are opposed. They would rather any additional public safety funds be spent on cameras.
In July, the Public Safety Committee voted 6-0 in favor of the Town Council budgeting for at least two Lee County Sheriff Community Police Officers. Committee member Jim Knickle, a former police officer, believes 4 community police officers should be hired.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Department schedules two regular deputies to Fort Myers Beach. That number increases during busy weekends, holidays and Spring Break.
It was clear that whether or not the officers would be hired fell to Mayor Ray Murphy. And that’s when it turned odd.
The Mayor said he would be in favor of hiring the two community police officers if the Lee County Sheriff’s Department threw in two more. In other words, he believes Fort Myers Beach should get four officers for the price of two. “I’m of the mind that if we’re going to go with community policing, they (the sheriff) raise the minimum to four. Give us two more deputies down here and we’ll take the community service. See what the Sheriff thinks about that. That will give us a few more deputies down here, then we’ve got something.”
Then Murphy questioned how the community policing program was run. “We have no idea what’s going on with it. We don’t know how it’s going to be controlled. They don’t report to us. They report to the sheriff. Who controls these guys? Who sets the program? There are a lot of unknowns to me. If the sheriff wants us to buy into this community policing then give us a few more deputies. Then we can really work with them.” He said the sheriff should put more skin in the game.
Murphy then criticized Lee County, stating the new road (Estero Boulevard) created a super-highway with cars speeding up and down the road all day long.
The Mayor went on to say the the Lee County Sheriff’s Department was pushing the deputies on him. “I know when I’m being sold something.”
Bonita Beach currently has 14 community police officers and two detectives and, as far as we know, they don’t get any deputies thrown in for free. And, for the record, the Fort Myers Beach fire department does not report to the town council either. They report directly to an elected fire board.
Even though there are now three council members against hiring the community police officers, the money for the two officers is in the tentative 2021-2022 budget. There is one more public hearing on the budget, on September 16th at 5PM, before it’s voted on.