MANATEE — After a recent spike in bank robberies and other crimes in the region, the FBI is forming a Southwest Florida Violent Crimes Task Force.
So far, the task force consists of only the FBI and the Bradenton Police Department, but could eventually include representatives from law enforcement agencies in the region spanning from Manatee County in the north to Collier County in the south.
Task force officers will work together to solve cases such as bank robberies and kidnappings and locating fugitives.
“We’re noticing that the Sarasota and Bradenton area are hot spots for bank robberies right now. As a result of that, and as a way to combat and address that practical problem, the Bradenton Police Department and Sarasota FBI office have started a task force to address these types of issues,” said FBI spokesman Special Agent Dave Couvertier.
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The task force got its first case last week, after Bradenton police officers shot Charles T. Kincaid Sr., 66, of Sebring, accused in an attempted bank robbery and a suspect in two other heists. Detective Greg Price is the Bradenton department’s representative on the task force.
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has declined to participate, citing budgetary concerns and its work with the Palmetto Police Department on another task force.
Sheriff Brad Steube said an FBI task force was formed several years ago and was highly successful in Manatee County.
When the funding dried up, the sheriff’s office formed its own task force, inviting other agencies to participate, he said.
In the midst of budget cuts, Steube said it’s difficult to free up a detective to work full time for the FBI through a task force.
“We cannot participate in the FBI’s unit because I’m cutting 12 positions this year. I had to cut seven last year. I can’t afford it. Even if it’s out of Sarasota, I don’t have the manpower to do it,” he said. “If we need the FBI’s help, we certainly contact them. . . . We still utilize them and they utilize us.”
Bradenton Police Deputy Chief William Tokajer said the department’s investigations will benefit from federal resources.
“It’s not that we’re giving up a detective, but we’re gaining a task force,” he said.
Couvertier said the FBI’s main priority since 9/11 has been to prevent another terrorist attack on the nation. However, the federal agency is still responsible for combating violent crimes such as bank robberies that can be prosecuted on a federal level.
“(The task force) is one innovative way to still protect our local communities and provide service to our citizens,” he said.
Criminals often jump jurisdictions, and a task force allows law enforcement to communicate more effectively to make arrests, Couvertier said.
“Who knows the streets better than a particular police department? Usually, they know the areas very well. They have good networks. At the same time, the state and federal agencies bring in resources,” he said.
The FBI Task Force will use federal dollars to pay overtime as needed to detectives, and possibly provide them with vehicles, lab analysis, training and security clearances so they can access criminal databases.
“(Criminals) can run, but they aren’t going to be able to hide anywhere,” Couvertier said.
Beth Burger, criminal justice reporter, can be reached at 708-7919.