TALLAHASSEE— Gainesville and Alachua law enforcement tout a careful balance of community policing, joint cooperation and enforcement for their success in managing crime in their community.
A recent article by Tallahassee Reports highlighted the stark differences the between crime statistics for Alachua County and Leon County, two very similar counties with similar demographics and challenges, but with vastly different violent crime and arrest rates.
According to the June 20 article, Alachua’s crime rate decreased nearly 40 percent over the same period as Leon County’s jumped 21 percent. Seemingly simultaneously, Tallahassee’s arrest rate and clearance rate collapsed as the crime rate rose.
Gainesville Police Department (GPD) Public Information Officer Ben Tobias attributed his city and county’s success to everyone — from students, universities, citizens, local law enforcement agencies and the individual officers — recognizing crime problems and working together to solve them.
“Our sheriff and chief absolutely get along well together,” Tobias said. He said additionally there is an ongoing partnerships with the University of Florida, and when a problem is identified it becomes a priority for everybody.
He said when Gainesville noticed a spike in vehicular burglary, law enforcement formed a joint task force, in which detective bureaus worked together to find and prosecute the perpetrators. Efforts also included a proactive public service campaign which included conventional television advertisements and an unconventional tactic of placing flyers on parked cars. The placards individually evaluated the security of each vehicle and offered tactics to better secure it and its contents.
Sgt. Paul Pardue is the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) Racial and Ethnic Disparity Coordinator. He said ACSO has taken a long-range plan addressing juvenile crime in hopes of reducing the overall crime rate long-term. By working with schools and the community, early behavior is monitored with referrals made for both children and their families to mental health, drug abuse and social service agencies. In all but the most serious crimes, every attempt is made to avoid arrest of juveniles.
However, law enforcement does not turn a blind eye to the juvenile crimes, according to Pardue. He said, “While we try every intervention possible, these juvenile offenders are held accountable.”
He said ACSO takes a three-pronged approach – it makes sure the youth is held accountable, learns something and makes the victims whole.
“For instance, if a juvenile steals from a home owner, in addition to issuing a civil citation, we will help work out a deal with the home owner, where maybe the juvenile will work doing yard work or something. It’s sort of an Andy Griffith approach,” he explained.
A lot of responsibility is placed on the officers for building relationships with the community they patrol.
“Our officers are assigned specific patrols and are held accountable for their actions. They’re expected to ‘own’ that patrol zone. It becomes their community and they really do care,” said Tobias.
That means getting out of the patrol car and questioning the kid on the street corner at 2 a.m., according to Pardue.
“Officers must take that extra five or 10 minutes. It doesn’t cost anything,” Pardue said.
Tobias said this intimate knowledge of their zones allow officers to patrol more effectively. For example, if they know a certain resident is out of town, they can keep a closer watch on that home. Conversely, Tobias explained, when a resident knows the officers by name, and even has their cell numbers, in many cases, the resident is much more likely to call to report a crime or provide information that leads to arrests.
“But as with all law enforcement, it’s not all hugs and sunshine,” said Tobias. A close relationship with the community does not mean not enforcing the law.“(People living in high crime areas) want law and order. They just need to trust us,” said Pardue.
Tobias said GPD has a Special Operations Unit which is a branch of the detective bureau. It investigates violent crime, burglaries and narcotics. Within that unit is a group of officers that do nothing but go after problem areas.
“If we notice a dramatic increase in violent crime or drugs in a particular area, we’ll send these officers there,” he said.
He continued, “These officers are nice human beings but they are going to directly affect the crime in that area. If there are violent people or open-air drug markets, we’ll move into those areas and protect the community but at the end of the day, we’re going to take the bad guys to jail.”