To Reduce Crime Rate, Fort Lauderdale Police are Starting Small
By Jean-Paul Renaud, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- A climbing crime rate and a reduction in police manpower have forced Fort Lauderdale officials to rethink the way they fight crime, City Manager George Gretsas said on Tuesday.
While the incidents of certain crimes -- robbery, rape and home burglary -- have gone up since last year, arrests have decreased by almost half, from 11,241 to 6,715.
Taking a page from New York City's "broken window" theory, they hope a crackdown on smaller violations, such as panhandling, graffiti, littering and prostitution, will curtail more serious crimes.
"Neighborhoods are very concerned over the quality of life issues," Gretsas said. "It all starts with the smaller things."
New teams will be formed to focus on those specific problems. One team, made up of three police officers and three public safety aides, will focus on abandoned vehicles, illegal dumping and street vendors. Another six-member task force will join the prostitution enforcement teams. Three more officers will be assigned to curtail graffiti by working with schools to enforce vandalism laws.
"Paying attention to those small things can really make a difference, " Chief Bruce Roberts said.
In addition, homelessness, which is on the rise in Fort Lauderdale, will also take center stage. Three officers will be assigned to seek out the homeless and identify their needs, directing them to the appropriate social services facilities.
"It's really starting to blossom again," Gretsas said. "We're too great of a city to ignore the needs of our poor and our helpless. We're going to provide a helping hand, but we're going to couple that with enforcement. We can't have people urinating on the beach."
Roberts attributed the rising crime rate to the loss in manpower and the closing of the city's jail, both due to budget cuts. He said every time an officer makes an arrest, it takes the officer off the streets for more than an hour, while they process suspects at the Broward County jail.
Roberts also hopes to increase his ranks by 70 officers. The department lost at least 80 positions because of budget cuts. Currently, the police department has 498 sworn officers and 225 civilians.
City commissioners said cleaning streets of petty crimes will send a clear message to those who want to commit more serious offenses.
"I think that when your streets are filled with homeless people or prostitutes or panhandlers, it suggests an atmosphere of neglect," Vice Mayor Dean Trantalis said. "It fosters a sense like no one's looking, like it's OK."
But he hopes officials will strike a balance when enforcing the law.
"I don't want to turn our city into a authoritarian regime where every time you try to do the slightest thing you get cited or fined," Trantalis said. "I don't want to turn it into a police state."
City officials said that although the initiatives will begin immediately, results may take time.
"Community policing and broken windows, as crucial as it is, is a very time-consuming process," Roberts said.