When the town council meets Monday, for the last time until August, the topic of public safety is sure to come up. How far is this council willing to go to protect its residents and deter bad behavior? Has Fort Myers Beach reached a point where it needs its own police force?
There will be many questions on the table after a holiday weekend that included a shooting, staged boxing matches right on the beach, at least one restaurant manager being punched in the head trying to break up a fight and kids acting as if they were on Spring Break on a day adults were trying to honor fallen warriors.
A public doc request to the town revealed that town manager Roger Hernstadt requested several additional Sheriff’s deputies for the holiday weekend. One for the traffic light at the foot of the bridge. One to help people cross a busy intersection. And for beach patrol he requested 4 on Saturday, 4 on Sunday, and 3 on Monday, in staggered shifts, to patrol from Bowditch to Red Coconut. The total cost for the extra patrols over the 3-day weekend was $7,648.
Sheriff Carmine Marceno said during a press conference Thursday, to announce the arrest of the alleged beach shooter, that his department also had additional patrols at the beaches. It’s not clear if those deputies were the deputies the town paid for additional deputies on top of what the town paid for.
Local residents and business owners we spoke to said there are 4 days the community consistently sees this bad behavior: Memorial Day, Labor Day, the first day local schools get out and when Spring Break begins. LPA member Scott Safford, who also owns the Sea Gypsy said “weekends are becoming crazy too.” He said several of his guests left this past weekend because they didn’t feel safe.
One option town council members Jim Atterholt and Dan Allers have been pushing is community policing. That would entail the hiring of two Lee County Sheriff’s deputies who would become embedded in the local community. The same two officers all the time. They would be proactive, getting to know the community, rather than always reacting to 911 calls and emergencies. The cost would be $112,641 per deputy per year. Community policing will be on the council’s Management and Planning meeting June 9th at 9AM.
Not everyone agrees that community policing is the answer. Some say these incidents of fights on the beach and shootings do not involve local residents, they are infrequent day visitors which community policing wouldn’t impact.
Another option that surfaced last week was for businesses to beef up security on their own during the known trouble days and communicate with each other by radio or phone when they see rowdy crowds making trouble in an area. It may cost the businesses some money for those days, however, they may be able to stop an incident before it gets out of hand by notifying LCSO quicker.
The other option that gets brought up from time-to-time is having Fort Myers Beach create its own police force, like Sanibel has. That option would most likely include raising taxes. As of now there is no additional revenue set aside for additional public safety in the town’s next fiscal budget other than the extra patrols that are requested by the manager.
Fort Myers Beach Public Safety Committee chairman John Goggin has apointed committee member Jim Knickle liason to the Lee County Sheriff’s Department to “to drill down on the issues quickly.” Knickle was a police officer in Ohio for 30 years before retiring. He’ll be one of our guests on Beach Talk Radio Saturday morning.
Whatever this council chooses, one thing is clear. Residents are angry with what they witnessed over the weekend and they expect leaders to take some kind of action.