Commissioners ask police chief for answers to high crime
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
City commissioner Curtis Richardson didn’t have to point to some crime from a year ago, while making his point about a need for police to be more vigilant on the streets of Tallahassee.
A stabbing incident had just taken place a few blocks from where the City Commission was getting a report on crime in Tallahassee from police chief Michael DeLeo. The chief spent most of the time during his more-than-an-hour report explaining what TPD is doing to stem the high rate of crime in the city.
A recent Florida Department of Law Enforcement report ranked Tallahassee’s crime rate highest in the state for a third straight year.
While Richardson called for more street policing, his colleagues told DeLeo they knew of places where drugs and prostitution are prevalent and he should “go after the bad guys.” A grocery store on Holton Street and hotels on North Monroe were singled out as crime hot spots by Commissioner Scott Maddox.
“I’m talking about what’s happening on the streets and what’s impacting people’s lives on a day-to-day basis,” Richardson told DeLeo. “That’s what I would like to get at.
“We’ve got to get out on the streets and make sure that where people live, work and pray they feel they’re safe.”
Richardson, who lives on the Southside where crime is high, said he was compelled to ask for more officers on the streets because of his personal experience. His car and home were burglarized on separate occasions, he said.
While the commissioners stopped short of asking DeLeo for a definitive strategic plan, Mayor Andrew Gillum suggested that the chief give a bi-weekly report to the commission.
“We’ve got to make sure that everything is being done with an eye toward results,” Gillum said, adding that the FDLE report has caused some anxiety.
“I know if we’re anxious then your officers who are doing the line duty every single day have got to share that level of anxiety,” he said. “Even greater because their lives are on the line.”
However, DeLeo reminded the commission that crime has been down in Tallahassee for the period of January to May when compared to the same time last year. He also outlined several programs that are in place and said TPD will hire 15 new officers by October.
Two years after DeLeo took over as TPD chief, the number of officers increased by 55 and he expects the number of officers to reach just over 400 by next year.
But right now it’s the 672 violent crimes in the FDLE report that commission members find troubling. In part, DeLeo said social issues like unemployment and recidivism have something to do with that.
Although DeLeo came with mounds of statistics that showed a dip in certain areas such as violent crimes, which has dropped 11 percent from last year, Maddox questioned the effectiveness of DeLeo’s approach.
“What strikes me is that we are seeing a pattern of violent crimes that are related to other crimes; a drug deal or a fight between two drug dealers or something that relates to a transaction that is illegal,” Maddox said.
DeLeo reports some figures that aren’t in the crime report, saying they are important to know. Specifically he said there are 205 felons released each month and there are 267 sex offenders in the city.
Most of those often go back into the criminal justice system, he said.
“There is research that shows once someone is engrained in the criminal justice system, especially people who are coming out of prison, there is a really great chance of them being in crime again,” he said.
DeLeo said getting information from some communities haven’t been the easiest thing when it comes to investigating a crime. Most times it’s their fear of retribution that causes their fear, he said.
Richardson said more should be done to engage the community in crime solving, pointing to a recent shooting of an infant in a car.
“We’ve got to redouble our efforts; whatever they are because there are neighborhoods that are under siege,” he said. It’s happening everywhere. I don’t care what’s happening in Gainesville or Orlando or Fort Lauderdale. I care about what’s happening right here in Tallahassee.
“If our numbers are what they are three years in a row, then we’ve got to redouble our efforts to address this issue.”