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‘Club Blu, What is Next?’: Law enforcement officials say public involvement is key

By Staff | Aug 26, 2016

From community policing, to technology like street cameras, local law enforcement possess a variety of tools to deal with street violence, but they also need the public’s assistance to get the job done.

That was the message Wednesday when officials spoke before an audience of more than 100 at the Tiger Bay Club of Southwest Florida’s luncheon. The program was “Club Blu, What is Next?” and the speakers included Cape Coral Police Chief Dave Newlan and Fort Myers police Capt. Dennis Eads.

Eads was serving as the interim chief when the Club Blu shooting occurred in Fort Myers.

Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott was also scheduled to speak but could not make it.

Newlan and Eads talked about the rise in street violence, the methods the agencies use to limit and prevent the issue, and what citizens can do to help. They also took questions from the audience.

“Community policing is very important,” Newlan said, adding that it helps build a bridge between the department and its officers and the public, opening up lines of communication and building trust.

Regular town hall meetings and workshops result in face-to-face time with residents.

“We’ve had a lot of good ideas exchanged,” he said.

Eads voiced his belief that open communication and honesty is the best approach. He said the FMPD needs to work more on building bridges with the community, but added it is not always the answer.

“Some members of the community, we’re never going to reach,” Eads said.

He noted that partnerships with outside law enforcement agencies also play a part. When the Club Blu shooting happened, Eads was contacted by several agencies that immediately sent resources to help.

“I didn’t have to call them,” he said. “They called us, they called me.”

Newlan pointed to technology and police presence in certain areas as other tools his department employs. Last year, the Cape police began equipping their street officers with body cameras.

“It’s been very positive for our department,” he said.

Increasing officers on the street and traffic operations also have a role.

“Presence deters crime,” Newlan said.

Eads explained that downtown Fort Myers had several street cameras installed last year. The reaction from the public was mixed – some saw it as a good thing, some saw it as an invasion of privacy.

“If you’re out in the public view, you have no right to privacy,” he said, noting that the surveillance cameras are not focusing into people’s residences and do not record sound or conversations.

But the use of the cameras only extends so far.

“The cameras will not stop crime, but they will deter crime,” he said. “They are a tool.”

Newlan added that not every intersection or neighborhood needs cameras.

“There’s obviously a cost involved,” he said.

Eads pointed to the gun buyback program the FMPD hosted a few months ago. While the 120 guns collected were not turned in by criminals, the event did remove a possible threat from the community.

“These 100-plus weapons in these homes are no longer available to steal,” he said.

In taking questions from the audience, one attendee asked about protection for tipsters. Eads and Newlan confirmed there are police programs and resources available, but there are limitations.

Both also noted that some people are willing to cooperate with police, while others simply are not. Eads pointed to the Club Blu shooting as an example where cooperation was needed but not received.

“There were no ‘good citizens’ witnessing that. If there were, they would have come forward,” he said.

Another attendee asked whether more youth intervention programs are needed locally.

Eads encouraged the audience to bolster and support the existing ones.

“There are a lot of programs already available,” he said.

Newlan noted that the programs, however, must be monitored in order to be successful.

“Sometimes programs need to be changed,” he said.

“You can’t reach everybody, but we can try to do our best,” Newlan added.

Both stressed that the public’s help is needed.

“If you see something, say something,” Eads said.

“You’re our best witness out there,” Newlan echoed, adding that sometimes citizens do not speak up because they think their information is insignificant and they are a bother. “Please, bother us.”

Residents are likely to first notice a quality of life issue in their neighborhood.

“Never think it can’t happen in your neighborhood,” he said.

During the luncheon, Eads and Newlan addressed the recent murders within their cities. Newlan explained that the occurrences that have taken place in the Cape this year have been separate.

“These homicides are not related to anything larger,” he said. “These are isolated incidents.”

Eads referenced the ZombiCon shooting and Club Blu shooting.

“Both of those cases are extremely active,” Eads said, adding a public message for those who committed the crimes. “You will get caught, you will get arrested.”

New Fort Myers Police Chief Derrick Diggs was in attendance and offered a few words.

“I know there’s a concern about recent events. We’re going to do all we can to make sure you’re safe,” he told the audience. “We need the support of the community – we have to all work together.

The luncheon was held at the Harborside Event Center, at 1375 Monroe St, Fort Myers.

For more information of the club, visit: www.swfltigerbay.org/.