Those who live and work near Selby Five Points Park say that crime has been reduced and that transients are virtually non-existent since the city removed six benches from the park three months ago.
Sarasota Police Capt. Paul Sutton backs up the crime-drop claims.
From July 1, 2010, through Sept. 30, 2010, Sutton said the department received 16 calls related to the park. In the same time period in 2011, the department received three calls. And, the overall police district that the park sits in received 67 calls from July 1, 2010, through Sept. 30, 2010, compared to 39 calls in the same time period for 2011. There were also 19 arrests made in that district during the 2010 timeframe, compared to 12 arrests for the same period in 2011.
“However, you want to measure it, crime is down in that area,” Sutton said.
The bench-removal decision was made after residents complained that the benches attracted transients and panhandlers and allowed them to congregate, which intimidates some citizens and tourists.
But the city is planning on revisiting its decision.
City staff will approach the Sarasota City Commission in early December at the earliest and ask commissioners whether they want to place benches back in the park. The three-month trial period will have ended by that time.
But the question that really needs to be asked, according to Peter Fanning, president of the Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association, is what the city would do differently if the benches were to be returned.
“There’s no denying that our association has voiced support of bringing the benches back in after three months,” Fanning said.
But Fanning said that, as of now, he and his association don’t support the return of the benches at this time.
“We have since taken the position of supporting the residents’ desire to refrain from putting the benches back in at this time,” Fanning said. “Safety, security and cleanliness has much improved in the area, and we feel that needs to be maintained until a permanent solution can be reached.”
Fanning suggests the city draft an ordinance that addresses homeless feedings and has agreed to work with the Rev. Thomas Pfaff, who is working with all parties to reach an amicable solution. Pfaff plans to present his plan to the commission some time early next year.
But the homeless issue isn’t the only problem, according to Fanning and others.
“We need enforcement mechanisms to actually be consistent and enforced,” said Fanning, who believes the city needs to enforce its no-camping ordinance. “We are trying to work out a situation where we can get both sides to agree on something.”
But downtown residents Frank Brenner and Phil Grande believe there’s nothing to work out.
Brenner addressed the Downtown Sarasota Alliance at its Oct. 5 meeting, only to be cut off before he could finish reading a three-page prepared statement.
The statement, entitled “An Appeal to Reason,” said a solution has already been found.
“The effect (of the benches’ removable) is visible, dramatic and undeniable,” said Brenner, who has circulated a petition of downtown Central Avenue residents, which includes 134 signatures in support of the removal of the benches. “It’s been a 100% turnaround, and I urge that the benches under no circumstances be returned to Five Points Park.”
Resident and radio host Grande agrees.
“The question everyone needs to ask is whether the downtown area is better now than it was when the benches were installed there,” Grande said. “There’s no question that if you poll the residents and business owners of the downtown area, which are directly affected, the answer would be a resounding yes.”
The Sarasota Observer contacted eight business owners near Selby Five Points Park, and all agreed with Brenner and Grande’s assessment.
Eileen Wallace, owner of Write On and More, said the transients are not prevalent in the area.
“It’s been calmer and my customers feel much safer,” Wallace said. “I am definitely looking much more forward to this season without the hassles.”
Gerrie Heibel, owner of Envie, said the situation was “99% better.”
“Both my customers and my employees were being harassed this time last year by the homeless,” Heibel said. “Customers who previously told me they were afraid of the area are now strolling the streets at night.”
The merchants on First Street, in fact, were so confident in what they perceive as a transformed area that they agreed to stay open for the first time for last week’s Downtown Sarasota Alliance First Friday evening event.
“We are so pleased with this street and the activity we have now,” Heibel said.
City Manager Bob Bartolotta, who will present the issue to the commission again for its discussion, said he wants a discussion to take place before benches are considered again.
“I can see there has been a notable difference in the Five Points Park area,” Bartolotta said.
Currently 8 Responses
- So many words. So little common sense.
- The way i see it, when you stuff the ballot box you usually get the results you want....Prior to removing the benches...Condo residents would call for anyone they didnt like being in the park...they could just be sitting there and they call...the results would be an Officer responding and generating a case number......but the case number is just record keeping it doesn say what really happend..a majority of those reports had no finding...nothing happend,,,no problem...but it still gets counted as a call to that area....Now you take away the benches and the calls drop the results is,,less case numbers showing up for Capt Sutton to count....the translation by SPD----crime went down the real story-----nothing changed...5 points is still the most expensive "dog park" in the county..YES dog park,,there the only ones who can use it !
- Does the City of Sarasota want to have the look and feel of a deed restricted, gated community, or does it want to be a city? Cities are hubs of human diversity--diverse humans creating diverse experiences and seeking commonality. Cities make noise. Sometimes they look good, other times they smell bad. Business lunchers and tourists sit in the same parks as "undesireables." If the City of Sarasota does not want that, then it can come up with some civic motion to change its definition, put up gates and be done with this nonsense.
Benches are not the problem, people are. Yes, people. Real human beings with problems for which our society does not have solutions and/or for which the subject humans do not want solutions.
Downtown business owners, your business is in the heart of an almost-urban city that intends to grow, and grow well. Did you expect the homeless and vagrants that were there when you set up shop to go away when you opened? Did you not notice or ask? Did you not look at the crime statistics you are now quoting to support your “removing benches cures homelessness” position? Did you really expect the City of Sarasota to be the only city on the planet without poor people or even (gasp!) a homeless problem?”
Downtown residents, take your Noise Ordinance victory and be quiet. Like downtown business owners, you chose to be where you are. If any of you did not look, think or ask before you made your decision, do not blame vagrants or outdoor furniture for the outcome of your decisions. Constant complaining exacerbates the problem. Grow up or move on.
I have long described Sarasota as “almost urban.” I don’t want Sarasota to evolve into some over-manicured, over-palmed hamlet of social and economic purity. While I despair that Sarasota continues to rank as one of the most highly segregated cities in the country, I see the potential for communities of commonality that are respected, celebrated, and shared.
I believe it is a city on the cusp of greatness—we have a wealth of knowledge, experience and creativity that we have not begun to tap. I believe we have the potential to re-define urban, and become one of the truly great cities on our planet.
Before we get there, some in our community need help. It may not be the help we think they need or want. If you listen, they’ll tell you what they need. Others in our community can and do help. Others simply want a great environment for their chosen business. Let’s quit blaming the benches and get to work with—and for—each other.
- I am one of the old farts that lives opposite 5 Points Park. I agree a park needs benches however not when you can;t enjoy the park. I see people coming to the park to have lunch on a blanket. That never happened before with the vagrants all over the park. I see tournists walking through the park. I have never seen them there before. I myself feel free to strool in the park. I never was able to before. Maybe we should put the benches in your back yard. People or tax payers that want benches can go to the park around Marina Jacks. Why all of a sudden are these people coming of the woodwork. Where were they when the benches were there. I would like to know how much time they spent there. Fae Beloff
- Seems obvious to me - put the benches back in the park & meter them!
- As a city, I want to be able to use the park and have a place to sit. My tax dollars pay for the parks. Its too bad that a few crabby on "deaths doorstep" old farts control what the majority of people need or want. This park is for the majority of people that want to enjoy living in this area and to take away the benefits to solve a small problem that a few cause, hurts the many that want to continue to enjoy this wonderful community.
- It is problematic that a park can't have *PARK* benches. If this keeps up, the government might have to provide a special place for the mentally ill like they used to before they pushed them off onto the community.
Don't worry. There are still plenty of Nurse Ratcheds.
- If everything has gone so well, why is the Commission revisiting the bench issue???
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