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Police hirings comes into bar hour discussion

By Staff | Mar 3, 2016

While the extended bar hours in the Cape has been a success thanks to the cooperation of area businesses and increased enforcement, it is not sustainable in its present form,

Cape Coral Police Chief Bart Connelly told city council during a workshop meetingWednesday.

City council decided it would vote on whether to continue the program for another year although some on council, upon seeing the statistical data collected by the CCPD regarding the increase in service calls and arrests, especially in the wee hours of the morning, expressed concerns.

Connelly said that for South Cape clubs such as Dixie Roadhouse to be able to stay open until 4 a.m. and continue enforcement for all of Cape Coral, the city would have to hire four officers and one supervisor at a cost of more than $1 million during the first two years.

The hirings are a separate issue from the extended bar hour pilot program, but City Manager John Szerlag said he would attempt to look for the money to make those hirings happen sooner rather than until a new budget is adopted in the fall.

As for bar hours, Connelly gave a presentation to council about data collected from when extended hours started last April to Jan. 31 and compared them to the same time period in 2014-15.

On the bar graph, it showed significant increases across the board in regards to DUIs, intoxication, disturbance, trespass and citizen contact.

The numbers were not such a complete surprise, Connelly said.

“Common sense would tell you we would have an increase, but not as many as we expected,” Connelly said. “We thought everything would shift to the right.”

Connelly attributed the numbers to the cooperation from the businesses. He also attributed the increase in DUIs to a grant the city got from the Florida DOT, adding the higher arrest numbers didn’t necessarily come from the expanded bar hours.

Connelly also said they needed more to make it work.

“This isn’t sustainable as it doesn’t provide adequate security for our patrons, officers or public. Off-duty details are difficult to man,” Connelly said. “We don’t have the manpower to respond to calls for service for the rest of the city.”

He then recommended the hiring of more police officers.

Szerlag said he planned on putting in a budget amendment and find funding for it. An ordinance would also have to be drafted with the hopes of getting it through by the end of the month.

Councilmember John Carioscia said the data was like comparing apples and oranges.

“If we run twice as many missions, we’ll get much more arrests. More concentrated enforcement means more arrests,” Carioscia said. “We need to compare 2015 to 2016 to see what we need.”

Councilmember Marilyn Stout saw the numbers as a stark warning for what may be to come.

“I look at 2014 and 2015 and see a tremendous difference. I’m leaning toward not extending it because of the graph and the cost,” Stout said.

Councilmember Jim Burch was more on the fence regarding his district, saying, “The data is clear. I have to decide if this is the best thing for the residents of Cape Coral.”

Councilmember Richard Leon, who brought forward the ordinance to approve the pilot program, said the ordinance, which would expire on April 3 if city council does nothing, said safeguards have always been in place in the event things got out of hand.

He supported bringing it back for another year to be sure the model fits.

Councilmember Rana Erbrick said she wanted to see data for an even longer period, like two or three years. The city council likely will decide which direction to go in at its next meeting.

“Our goal is to provide them with the best information so they can make an informed policy decision,” said Dana Coston, information officer for the CCPD. “The businesses have been fantastic. The level of partnership has been at a level we’ve never seen. The numbers increased, that was not a surprise.”

Carioscia said the council is ready to move forward with more officers and extended hours this month.

“We had a lot of issues and clarification brought in, which is good. We will find out where the money will come from and move forward in March,” Carioscia said. “We have the timeline set where it will work out perfectly.”