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Armed guard patrolling downtown Lakeland will help with panhandling, disturbances

Armed guard patrolling downtown Lakeland will help with panhandling, disturbances
Posted at 5:59 PM, May 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-02 18:28:17-04

LAKELAND, Fla. — There will be an extra pair of eyes and ears for business owners, when police aren't around in downtown Lakeland.

Shops and restaurants are getting busier as more people move to the city.

“We’re growing so fast, and you want to be able to come and spend the day and not worry about being panhandled or harassed,” Amelia Paige Boutique manager Marcy Riggar said.

Amelia Paige Boutique is across from Munn Park, where many people experiencing homelessness reside. Riggar said panhandling is now regular occurrence.

“You do have one or two, they’ll stop, they'll bother your customers and that’s what you don’t want,” she said.

The Lakeland Downtown Development Authority has signed a contract with Signal 88 Security to have a guard patrol the area. The private armed guard will be able to respond quickly to non-emergency situations, that police officers aren’t readily available to get to.

“We have a cell phone for him. We have a WhatsApp group that the merchants are in," Executive Director of Lakeland Downtown Development Authority Julie Townsend said. "So, he’s able to respond quickly if there’s something that needs to be responded to quickly. He can also report things like damage."

Between January and March, the Lakeland Police Department responded to two calls about panhandling and 11 disturbances downtown. The armed guard will also be expected to help with late night disruptive behavior when the bars let out.

“We have a downtown officer that’s dedicated to this area but just like any other officer in Lakeland, he may get called away for other reasons,” Townsend said.

The service is a six-month trial that will cost downtown property owners $7,995 a month.