ORANGE COUNTY – Recently, local law enforcement officials and county commissioners came together at the South Orlando YMCA for a Community Crime Forum. Led by Commissioner Linda Stewart of District 4, the purpose of the forum was to discuss concerns over neighborhood crime and safety. An open meeting, attended by a number of citizens, the forum dived in to some of the core problems facing Orange county communities, with potential solutions discussed.
In attendance were Director Jerry Demings, Orange County Public Safety, Undersheriff Malone Stewart, Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Captain Frank Smith, Orlando Police Department, Captain Tim Dilts, Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Larry Jones, Orange County Health and Family Services, Bob Spivey, Orange County Code Enforcement along with representatives from Orange County Public Schools and the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Topics discussed included access to youth programs and code enforcement regarding single family dwellings. But, the hottest topic was crime prevention and citizen involvement.
“The number one crime concern at this meeting was crime prevention and citizen involvement,” said Director Jerry Demings. “At previous Community Crime Forums juvenile crime has been a concern.”
According to officials, Commissioner Stewart’s Office also passed out a survey recently asking residents to rank their number one issue. Law enforcement and public safety topped the list.
Many also expressed concerns about the process of involving citizens in crime prevention efforts. At issue was the amount of time it took to get people into the current program, called COP (Citizens On Patrol). Undersheriff Malone Stewart of The Orange County Sheriff’s Office discussed streamlining the Citizens on Patrol application process. However, the process remains lengthy due to certain legal and liability issues that are considered when citizens apply for the COP program.
“As you know, law enforcement is not the only solution to the crime problem,” said Director Demings. “We need involvement from our neighborhoods and the community to report any suspicious activity when it happens. Residents are also encouraged to start a Neighborhood Watch program and lastly, parent involvement is the key to keeping our young people involved in healthy pro-social activities.“
According to officials, The Orange County Board of County Commissioners also recently approved approximately $1.2M in funding for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. These funds will be utilized for overtime of certified staff in the highest crime areas. The Board also approved $100,000 from the Crime Prevention Trust Fund to hire extra duty deputies to patrol 10 targeted high crime areas.
“The Orange County Board of County Commissioners approved approximately $1.2M for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for overtime,” said Demings. “The Sheriff’s Office requires all certified staff to work at least 8 hours of overtime in our highest crime areas in addition to their regular duties.”
For the future, the panel agreed that an increase in law enforcement patrols and special details in high crime areas would be key to the reduction of community crime. Another effort is underway in the courts, where The Juvenile Crime Commission, led by Chief Judge Perry and Judge Johnson, is working with the Department of Juvenile Justice and the legislature to give discretion to juvenile judges when making sentencing recommendations.
The Mayor of Orange County is also involved.
“Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty has commissioned a study to examine Adult & Juvenile Crime patterns in Orange County,” said Demings.
According to Demings, the study will be conducted by UCF to include but not limited to: demographics, single households, income level, education level, delinquency and social services.
Orange County is also continuing its Community Crime Forums around the county. Officials hope that this will provide a worthwhile opportunity for citizens to address panel members representing law enforcement, Department of Juvenile Justice, schools, public health, code enforcement and health & family services regarding crime and other related issues in their area.
For more information on upcoming forums, contact the Orange County Office For a Drug Free Community at 407-836-7335.