Budget might allow for more deputies to patrol East County.
Sgt. Jim Andersen, a 22-year-veteran of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, wants nothing more than to do his job well.
But the growth in East County’s population — with 1,206 new homes sold in Lakewood Ranch in 2017 — is making that a difficult task.
Andersen leads the four-deputy Community Oriented Policing North unit that covers District 3 — the unincorporated areas generally east of Interstate 75 and north of the Manatee River. His unit helps investigate crime trends, patrols neighborhoods in vehicles or on bicycles, and talks with residents, often about agricultural or livestock concerns.
That unit, however, seldom gets to concentrate on its intended purpose. Those deputies need to assist a department overwhelmed with other duties.
“We don’t get to do the community policing as it was intended,” Andersen said.
Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells said patrol deputies responded to 368,000 calls for service in 2017. With the continued growth in East County, the demand is increasing.
“We’re falling behind,” Wells said. “The growth is great for the economy, but it’s alarming to me to try to cover a larger area without more deputies. It’s about adequate coverage. East County cannot be ignored.”
District 3 covers more than 600 square miles of Manatee County, including the greater Lakewood Ranch area, Parrish and rural Myakka City and Duette.
In his May budget request to Manatee County commissioners, Wells asked for an additional 24 deputies, four corrections deputies for the jail and five more personnel related to investigations. The positions, he said, are needed to better handle growth primarily in District 3.
Four of the deputy positions are proposed as traffic deputies to cover the growth areas of the county, the Parrish and Lakewood Ranch areas.
Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said his proposed 2019 fiscal year budget allocates an additional $1.8 million for 12 deputies, including two who will be funded by and used for the city of Anna Maria Island.
Hunzeker said it brings the number of deputies to 1.4 deputies per 1,000 people, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement standard.
Wells said he appreciates the proposal and hopes commissioners give him funding to staff even more positions. His department uses FBI figures of a minimum 2.2 deputies per 1,000 people.
Commissioners will set the maximum millage rate July 31 and adopt the final budget Sept. 11.
“We can’t continue with just a few deputies a year,” Wells said, noting he would like to add at least 15 this year. “I’d even go to adding 20 deputies. We need to start concentrating on the safety aspect. You want proactive patrols. Our goal is to prevent crime.”
Capt. Bob Mealy, who oversees District 3, said new deputies would be assigned where needed.
“The population of our county has increased some 16.4% in the last eight years with that number only growing. East County is where a majority of that growth is taking place. “
Mealy said there are times only one deputy is covering a 5-square-mile radius.
Sgt. Mike Kenyan, who runs the daytime traffic patrol unit, said he has a maximum of four deputies patrolling the entire county at any given time. There’s only one assigned to the greater Lakewood Ranch area, making sure the public is adhering to traffic laws. Kenyan said he needs more manpower, as well.
“Lakewood Ranch alone could be one (patrol) district,” he said.