By Jim Leusner
ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando's police chief is taking cops out of the office and putting them on the streets to help fight crime in 25 "hot zones" across the city.
Chief Mike McCoy said Monday that up to 88 officers — half from management ranks — will ride, walk and bike through trouble spots during the next 30 days.
"Operation All Hands On Deck," as the campaign is called, started Sunday. McCoy unveiled it a week after the FBI reported statistics showing that violent crime in Orlando was up 13 percent last year, 10 times the national figure.
"The idea . . . is to effectively deter, prevent or rapidly identify crime when it occurs," McCoy said at police headquarters. "The strategy as you've heard before is to `put cops on the dots.' "
The "dots" are high-crime areas — all plotted on poster-sized maps of the city displayed at the news conference. They include several west-side neighborhoods in Parramore, Mercy Drive, Kirkman Road, Washington Shores, Rosemont, downtown Orlando and another just south of Semoran Boulevard and State Road 408.
To identify the zones, the agency's crime-analysis unit pinpointed street-corner drug sales, aggravated assaults, robberies, auto thefts and commercial burglaries.
Mayor Buddy Dyer called the plan "bold," "enterprising" and "aggressive."
"It puts more boots on the street," Dyer said. "The chief is out on his bike, and you may see him on his bike in Parramore."
Last year, Orlando police investigated 49 murders, 27 more than in 2005 or a 123 percent increase. Through Monday, the city had 20 murders, seven fewer than during the same period last year, said OPD spokeswoman Sgt. Barbara Jones.
Robberies jumped from 1,205 in 2005 to 1,528 in 2006, a 27 percent increase. Aggravated assaults, larcenies and vehicle thefts also rose.
McCoy said his officers and managers have enthusiastically embraced the operation, which will be evaluated in a month. He said the effort is being funded within existing budgets and that employee work schedules are being adjusted accordingly.
Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary started a similar initiative last year, using managers and detectives to enhance patrol zones. It was successful in helping to stem the increase in violent crime, and managers still are encouraged to participate in such operations, said sheriff's spokesman Capt. Mark Strobridge.
Orlando's push is the latest in a string of anti-crime tactics during the past year.
Last year, the agency launched Operation Restore and Operation Felony Focus in crackdowns largely in west-side neighborhoods. The department also offered $1,000 bounties for criminals with guns and even traded sneakers for weapons.
OPD formed specialized, tactical patrol units in September to target violent neighborhoods, making 651 arrests last year and 844 through June 2. Ninety-five guns also were seized since September, department statistics show.
Funding for two federally funded task forces aimed at criminals with guns in Orlando and violent offenders throughout the county also were announced earlier this month by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
At the news conference, OPD Detective Barbara Bergin appealed to residents in affected neighborhoods to anonymously report tips to CrimeLine. She said 9,000 tips were received and $270,000 in anonymous rewards were paid last year and that a double murder and several robberies were solved by tipsters this year.
Rev. Charles Jackson, pastor of Hurst Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Parramore for 5 1/2 years and a member of the Mayor's SAFE Orlando Task Force, which has studied the area's crime problem, applauded the plan.
He said he liked that police would be walking and riding bikes in neighborhoods and focusing on listening to residents about their problems.
Many criminals who deal drugs in Parramore actually live in Washington Shores or other neighborhoods, he said. And drug dealers clustered along Colonial Drive and Westmoreland Avenue last week are now gone, he said.
"They have been riding in their patrol cars and on motorcycles [for years]," Jackson said. "Now, they've been riding bikes and walking through. And I've seen a difference over the past five days."
McCoy, his voice filled with urgency, said Orlando, Orange County, Florida and the rest of the country are in the midst of a "three-year epidemic" of rising violent crime. He said his agency will continue trying new approaches to fight it.
"If this doesn't have the effect we want, we will try something else," McCoy said. "We are going to solve this. We are not going to put up the white flag."
Copyright 2007 The Orlando Sentinel
Fla. chief moves cops from desk job to street patrol