BRADENTON -- With the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority paying $200,000 a year for two officers -- one at Riverwalk and one in the downtown area -- the board is considering implementing a community policing plan.
Bradenton police Lt. Brian Thiers outlined some of the issues facing his officers at Tuesday's DDA meeting -- a kickoff of the police and the DDA working more closely to ensure officers are in place when most needed. The plan could lead to more officers being assigned in the future if additional DDA funding becomes available.
Officers now work hours based on department crime analysis of the two areas, Thiers said. The Riverwalk officer is assigned from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. Friday through Sunday. The combination of an officer on scene along with video surveillance has made a positive difference for Riverwalk safety
at night, officials say.
The downtown officer works from around 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
DDA board member Mike Carter said it is important to have police patrolling during daytime hours, but raised concern about "the bad element showing up at 4:15 like clockwork." Carter initiated the community policing plan discussion to determine what else can be done.
Thiers said downtown coverage specific to the DDA officer is a challenge, even though his patrol is consolidated into a small area with "the highest crime rate. We have both the nicest and hardest areas in downtown."
Thiers said the good news is downtown crime rates have dropped 6.5 percent overall, but violent crimes such as aggravated battery stemming from the downtown nightlife are up from the previous year. There also are issues with a growing homeless population ranging from defecating on the streets to performing public sexual acts.
"We provide a lot of great services for the homeless here, but what we are finding is a lot of them are coming from Polk County because they've heard about Bradenton's great services," Thiers said.
Outside of DDA-funded officers, the BPD has an additional officer specifically assigned to the 14th Street West corridor. While that officer and the downtown officer don't leave assigned zones, Thiers said the two often work together "to deal with the people doing nasty stuff."
Downtown and Riverwalk are routinely patrolled over the course of daily police duties, but the two officers specifically assigned to their beats do not leave those areas during their shifts. Thiers and the DDA pledged to enhance communication between the two agencies as they combine efforts to develop the community policing plan with an emphasis on downtown "because Riverwalk is much better," said Theirs. "But downtown, we often hear about things secondhand because things go unreported."
With the success of the Riverwalk cameras, board member Jason Bartz suggested the DDA look into expanding its video surveillance from Riverwalk into the downtown area and asked for the camera vendor to attend a meeting. DDA Executive Director Dave Gustafson said the conversation has taken place and the biggest challenge is locating cameras properly with all the tree cover downtown.
Board Chairman Vernon DeSear said Riverwalk has been "significantly better, so I look forward to working together. Our goal is for these gentlemen to know we are interested in what they are doing and from the business perspective, for us all to come together and make it work."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.