Who’s Responsible For Your Safety?

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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.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Finally, an important fact surfaces on crime’s riding impact on the island.
    Visitors are checking out early, even on weekends. Because they don’t feel safe. They return home and of course tell their friends Fort Myers Beach is not a safe place.
    Meanwhile, a clueless council does little to nothing to provide credible protection for it’s residents and visitors.
    A tiny milage rate is no match for the expanded law enforcement needed to control the assaults, burglaries and rapes in the neighborhoods and the drunken brawls and gunshots on the shoreline.
    On a seven-mile-long island courting diverse crowds of visitors and growth, expanded law enforcement will be necessary and will cost much more money.
    Better act fast before paradise becomes an illusion.

  2. Why don’t we start simple.. enforce the no drinking on beach law which is already on the books… these groups of trouble makers are not coming if they can’t drag their coolers with them. And a side note … why aren’t the patrols on the sand and undercover?

  3. I lived in a village with 847 homes, no business district and we had our own police force. The officers new the residents and patrolled the village with two cars. Many residents left house keys at the police station for emergencies. When we left on vacation and notified the station our house would be checked regularly. One time I forgot to lock the patio doors. The police called us to say they had entered our home and found nothing out of order and then locked the door. This was service. If the taxes from 847 homes could cover this I believe the taxes from the homes and many condos on the beach could cover the cost of police. And we also have businesses that pay taxes too. It is time to have a Fort Myers Beach police force.

  4. Great article. And public safety should be a top priority. As for businesses getting additional staff for those weekends, it’s not going to be easy during a time when most businesses are struggling to find staff at all to work during regular business hours.
    I’ve been to beaches all over the world and mainly on Florida beaches I’ve seen beach patrol on atv’s (or depending the beach, small patrol trucks). We used to have that and it was frequent, now not so much if at all.

  5. Crazy that the town council would spend a couple hundred thousand dollars to draw plans up for a $2M+ Upland building (that a SLIM percentage of the residents want – besides certain members of town council); yet they’d need to raise our taxes for public safety?? How about extend agreement with Matanzas or build the trailers under the bridge and use excess $$ to staff Law Enforcement Officers that would provide safety for residents and visitors alike.

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