Southside residents want to see more police on patrol
By Ashley Williams
Depending on who is being asked, the answer to the question of if there is an adequate police presence on Tallahassee’s south side could vary.
While opinions may be different, one thing is certain: Southside residents would like to have a more visible presence of police officers. The neighborhood consensus is that the high crime rate in the area could be reduced if police officers are more visible before they are called to investigate a case.
TPD is just as concerned, but budgetary constraints that leads to how much available manpower remains an issue, according to police spokesman David Northway. But Northway said one simple solution could be for communities to voice their need for more policing.
Meanwhile, the Southside community that stretches from Apalachee Parkway to a portion of Pensacola Street seemingly has reason to be disenchanted with the apparent shortage of officers in their area. People who live along Orange Avenue on the Southside have had the most complaints about the lack of police presence.
College students who attend FAMU feel especially vulnerable, although the campus has its own police force.
The need for policing on the Southside is ever-present, based on what residents say they’ve seen. A recent police ride-along bears that out, too — from fender-bender crashes to complaints about a child being left alone in a car and physical altercations.
There are also simpler matters that police have to address such as business alarms going off or an old woman needing help.
That’s just a few. The City of Tallahassee reports that the most recorded crimes on the Southside are crashes without injuries (4,032) annually. Homicide crime against person, with an average of one attempt is second.
It’s a grind for officers to keep pace, Northway said. Officers work four days per week. Their shifts vary between 3 a.m. to midday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a third watch from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m.
But it is the window when there is no police patrol in the area that’s bothersome for students like Thomas Gaskins.
“It makes me feel uneasy,” he said. “I don’t even feel comfortable to go out at all hours of the night because I know anything can happen and the police probably won’t be there in time.”
Christic Henry, a former president of the Council of Neighborhood Association and currently a member of the Capital Area Neighborhood Network (CANN), agrees that communities have to establish relationships with the police. She has heard too often about the shortage of policing on the Southside.
The community needs to be more engaged, she said.
“There needs to be a joint working relationship between the community and the Tallahassee Police Department,” Henry said. “If people do not come together and advocate the issues there will be no change.”
Through Mayor Andrew Gillum public safety initiative Operation Safe Neighborhood, Henry’s organization is being proactive as a sponsor. The program allows citizens to walk neighborhoods with TPD officers.
CANN also will host the National Night Out event on the Southside on Aug. 2. It also will be partnering with Leon County on their 9/11 Day of Service Aug. 25.
In addition, CANN also holds neighborhood lead-share forums every month as a way of connecting with police.
But those efforts are just a small step in helping to solve the high crime rate in the area. Part of the problem is that residents might see drug-deal activities, prostitution or gang-related activities, but it’s widely believed that there is an unspoken understanding that neighbors don’t tell on neighbors.
That presents a challenge for police.
Typically, on the south side there are 11 officers on the day shift compared to eight on the northeast side of town, Northway said. He added that the Northeast is larger but there aren’t as many people because it’s a much denser population.
But there is an effort afoot to improve police presence everywhere, Northway said. He pointed to the constant recruiting of officers since Michael DeLeo took over as chief of TPD almost three years ago.
But while the number of police might come down to the budget, Northway reiterated that community involvement could have a huge impact on solving crime and keeping people safe.
“We can’t arrest our way to end any problems,” Northway said. “It needs to be a community issue to try and solve the problems.”