Longboat Key Police Chief Al Hogle points to Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime statistics to explain why he is recommending the town hire an additional patrol officer and a captain at a cost of $217,000.
Thefts from vehicles on Longboat Key rose 338.9% in 2009 compared to 2008, and home burglaries rose 20%.
In 2009, 48 of the 79 vehicle larcenies (61%) occurred in condominium parking lots; 16 burglaries, or 20%, were in driveways of single-family homes; and 12 vehicle larcenies, or 15%, occurred at beach accesses.
“It’s not like in years past when vehicle larcenies were just happening at beach-access points,” Hogle said.
Despite the loss of patrol officers on certain shifts, Hogle’s department and neighboring police departments have managed to arrest suspects involved with vehicle larcenies, including a group of people who stole five vehicles on March 19.
To combat the rise in vehicle larcenies, Hogle said his department tries to increase its police presence in those areas. Hogle will also be investigating license-plate recognition camera systems this summer that could be set up on both ends of the island to combat crime.
In total, the town saw a 104% increase in crime, or 88 more crime incidents in 2009 than the previous year.
Hogle attributes the increase to having just two patrol officers on duty during the daytime shift (7 a.m. to 7 p.m.).
The department’s evening shift, which runs from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., usually consists of three patrol officers at a time. All shifts are usually supervised at all times by a supervising officer.
“The reduction in officers the last couple of years was part my doing, part the town manager’s doing and part the Town Commission’s doing,” Hogle said. “It was the result of what seemed to be a downsizing of the economy to survive as a police department.”
But the reduction in officers has led to what Hogle refers to as “crisis scheduling,” which is when an officer calls in sick or is on vacation and the department has to find a replacement.
Hogle says crisis scheduling happens frequently, such as on Sunday, May 16, when an officer called in sick. Hogle and his captains also routinely work more than 40 hours a week to fill in for officers.
“Having given it a try, we have shown it’s an area where the town could have a better savings somewhere else,” Hogle said.
The addition of two more employees in his department, Hogle said, will allow for more supervision of patrol officers, increased training opportunities for employees and, hopefully, a decrease in crime levels.
“I believe we need a stronger police presence with three officers and a supervisor on a shift at one time,” said Hogle of the town’s previous standard of service until 2008.
In the last seven years the department lost two patrol officers, a community officer, a communications supervisor, a beach-patrol officer and a part-time communications officer.
“I believe I have shown I can be frugal with the department,” said Hogle, who drives a Ford Expedition with more than 140,000 miles on it. It is due to be replaced this year with a grant. “But residents have told me they want superior safety and that’s why I am making this recommendation.”
Hogle said it’s best to have vigilant patrol on the island.
“It’s always better to deter crime, rather than to let the crime happen and investigate it,” Hogle said.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at email@example.com.
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