Lakeland police shifting to community policing

Posted at 5:41 PM, Apr 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-11 18:26:25-04

Some Lakeland police officers are shifting to a new focus to get to know residents a little better.

The city has chosen to go back to an affective program known as community policing in which officers stay in specific neighborhoods.

In Lakeland, community policing was at its prime in the '90s. LPD had about 30 officers dedicated solely to different zones in the city.

Many believe the community policing program helped save the Parker Street neighborhood in Lakeland, which had the highest crime rate in the city in the mid-'90s

"You wouldn't feel comfortable being outside and walking around," said Tim Mitchell, who runs Parker Street Ministries.

The ministry worked tirelessly to change the ways in the neighborhood, but Mitchell credits the community police officers who got to know the people who lived there and suddenly the crime rate went down.

"I think it was a huge piece in that puzzle in bringing back the neighborhood," he said.

Back then, some of the community police officers worked out of a house donated to the city. Neighborhood kids even stopped by to chat or do their homework because it was a safe place.

Budget cuts in the early 2000s put an end to this approach, but Assistant Chief Ruben Garcia certainly never forgot the impact.

"We solved more crime," he said.

He remembers watching the crime numbers go down and used that experience to convince city leaders to invest in it again.

Eight officers just got approved and assigned to four zones in the city.

"These officers get the opportunity to get out and work with the residents and learn the community day in and day out," Garcia said.

There is an upfront cost of hiring and training the officers, but Garcia said the benefit will come on the back end.

The program officially starts in the coming weeks.