This is the blog for Robert Vincent, Chief of Police for the Gulfport (Florida) Police Department. Please feel free to leave comments, but keep in mind that anything appearing on this page may be subject to retention and disclosure in accordance with Florida public records law.

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Beach Patrols--Concerns and Answers

I would like to use this venue to provide some feedback to the public on some concerns I've recently been made aware of. Here goes.
Concern #1: Police refuse to enforce city ordinance violations, particularly in the beachfront area
I have never said that Gulfport officers will not enforce code violations. I did say once during a council meeting that officers will enforce state law in any case where the conduct in question violates both a city ordinance and the state statute. This is simply because enforcement of state law is a much more efficient process. It should not have been understood to mean that officers do not enforce ordinance violations.
The fact is-GPD officers routinely enforce code violations. Last year, there were multiple arrests for persons sleeping in public places and bothering residents and visitors. There were arrests (including one by me personally at the beachfront) for persons in possession of open containers of alcohol in public. In total, there were 347 documented incidents of police response to ordinance violations in 2012.
So the question need not be whether we enforce code violations, but how we prioritize that enforcement action. Here are some things to consider on this subject:
a.       If there is a specific complaint about an in-progress violation, an officer will respond and investigate every time. How the officer handles the situation depends on a great many things, but this is critical to understand: enforcement does not mean an arrest or issuance of a citation. The goal is compliance, not punishment.
b.      Police will take proactive enforcement action if there are ongoing violations of a similar nature that either:
                                 i.            Are indicative via professional analysis of contributing to criminal activity or the perception of criminal activity, or
                               ii.            Are the subject of repeated and extensive complaints from residents, visitors, or business owners. Professional analysis has revealed that in 2012, police received 24 complaints about code violations on the beachfront. Nine of those were related to boating violations. That leaves about one complaint per month for other violations, and I believe most would agree that does not constitute repeated or extensive.
c.       Some have suggested that police should enforce ALL code violations regardless of complaints. This is simply not possible. There are thousands of codes. An officer would never make it to the end of a single street if he were to stop, investigate, issue a citation, and complete a report for every single violation he saw. It would be possible to find a code violation of some kind on nearly every property in the city. We must prioritize based on complaints.
d.      Some have suggested that we should prioritize enforcement based on priorities established by the City Council via the passing of new ordinances. While I agree that the sitting council has authority to set priorities, I do not agree that the simple act of passing a new law should establish that law as the enforcement priority. To suggest that new ordinance are somehow more important than existing ordinances, absent some specific direction otherwise, is disrespectful to those (many of whom are still residents) who worked hard to see those laws passed in the first place. In deploying police resources, I will always take my direction from the city council via the city manager, but I will not assume that each new law passed should become our priority.
Concern #2: Police spend very little time patrolling the beach area.
On average, the beachfront area is patrolled four to six times per twelve-hour shift. This does not include patrols by me or either of the two lieutenants. I personally conduct a beach patrol four to five times per week. In total, there were 1,616 logs documenting police activity on Shore Blvd. in 2012.
Concern #3: Police have not done enough to address violations committed by certain children residing in the beachfront area.
While it would be inappropriate to name the children in this blog, the fact is that GPD officers have taken eight offense reports in 2012 regarding these specific children. In each case where the youth have been identified as a suspect in a criminal incident, the officer made an arrest and/or notified the parents. Appropriate referrals to the juvenile court and to the state department of juvenile justice have been made. We have done everything within the authority of the law, and we will continue to do so.
I hope I’ve been able to get some good information out to the public regarding enforcement of code violations on the beachfront. If you would like more information, or if you have additional concerns, please call or e-mail me.
Thank you.