Citizen Involvement is Key
Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno attended Fort Myers Beach Town Council meeting on Monday morning, February 4, first to address community safety measures in the wake of the January 20 murder of Beach Library Director Leroy Hommerding, then to answer council member questions.
“I am here today to address various issues,” Sheriff Marceno told a packed audience in Council Chambers. “We know the hot topic on the beach is safety, especially after the death of your wonderful Library Director by a homeless man, and while we will help the homeless in any possible way, at no time will we allow that to compromise the safety of any person in Lee County, as your safety is my Number One goal. Whenever we come into contact with the homeless for any reason, we document that and keep track of the homeless, not to harass them, but to know where they stay and what they do. We want to help them but not at the expense of the safety and security of the general public.”
Sheriff Marceno stated that the Lee County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) needs the public’s help to make Fort Myers Beach a safer community. “There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team’: call us when there is an issue that does not look right to you – if you see someone walking down the street wearing a trenchcoat and it is 100 degrees outside, that is a clue! We don’t want you to interact with a suspicious person or put yourself in danger, but to be a good witness, as we cannot be everywhere but our team can be everywhere! The homeless is a specific issue due to the last tragic event, and while we are sympathetic to them, as your Sheriff, I will do everything possible to make this a great place to live and visit. I can talk about this for hours but I want to open this to questions.”
Top of The Chart
Council member Anita Cereceda asked about the two new LCSO sky towers at the Matanzas Pass Bridge base and former Topps Supermarket. “The sky watch towers are ‘eyes in the sky’ and technology we deploy to record what is going on,” he said. “We cannot be everywhere but cameras are omnipresent, to record and observe from a high altitude.” Council member Dennis Boback said a common complaint he receives is the public no longer calls the LCSO because when they do, no one responds. “I would love to have that person call me, because if we do not respond, I want to talk to you personally. We respond in many different ways to different things and are absolutely here to serve you. On my command chart for our 1,550 team members, the public is at the top of that chart, as I answer to the people of this county; you are my boss!”
Vice Mayor Joanne Shamp asked several questions she received from Fort Myers Beach residents, including trespassing, bicycling, jay walking and noise ordinance violations. Sheriff Marceno stated that LCSO personnel issued 90 trespassing warnings in the past 4 months, with arrests on the second violation. “We do not allow camping on the beach and patrol it all the time but you may not see us, as we have plain clothes and narcotics deputies who are not highly visible but are there. You will see a lot of resources here this week and over the next foreseeable period of time, to address all these issues, including Driving Under the Influence and narcotics. I am an old-school guy who believes in bike and ATV and foot patrols, to develop relationships and engage business owners and neighborhoods like when I was a kid. Crime prevention is not one thing, but a totality. Your West District Commander, Captain Matt Herterick, is completely engaged and knows and is working on most of these issues.”
Need Victim Cooperation
Council member Bruce Butcher said that the Topps sky tower needed a better placement for greater effectiveness. “”We put it there for recording capabilities, to capture certain things,” replied the Sheriff. “But we want to make it right, to capture what you need!” He and Butcher will work together for the best possible placement. Butcher inquired about the stabbing of another homeless man by Dr. Hommerding’s accused murderer roughly 10 days prior. “I am glad you asked,” said Sheriff Marceno. “The most frustrating part of the job is when we do not get cooperation from victims, as the suspect could have gone to jail at that time, but that victim gave conflicting stories and could not identify his attacker, so despite everything we did to build probable cause, we did not have enough to make an arrest, as you can only go with the facts as they are.”
Butcher said he would like bicycle patrols on Fort Myers Beach, “especially between the Bay Oaks Recreational Center and Times Square, and in season, as traffic is so bad you cannot move around in a car.” “Absolutely,” agreed the Sheriff. “That is a great point and I will work with Captain Herterick on that. Perception is reality, but the numbers tell us something different. From September 2018 through January, on Fort Myers Beach we had 96 arrests, 233 citations, 22 field interviews, and 607 warnings for a total of 958 actions. During Spring Break, we budget an additional $200,000 for the deputies detail. Numbers do not lie – we are out there and working!”
Sheriff Marceno reiterated that “you will see resources here for an acute period of time, to make sure you are safe and secure, by enforcing all these things, maybe so much that residents may complain, because when the troops are out, residents receive more citations as well, and I already warned Mayor Gore about this.”
“I told the Sheriff, ‘don’t be sorry,’” said Gore, “Do it!” She asked what Fort Myers Beach residents can do to help the LCSO. “If you see it, say it, and call us,” replied Sheriff Marceno! “Be a great partner because that is what we need, before a small issue becomes a big one.”
The Town Manager reminded residents that “the LCSO can only operate on the budget provided by the Lee County Commissioners, so let the Commissioners know this is a priority, so they get the resources they need.” Sheriff Marceno thanked the Town Manager, pointing out, “The LCSO is down 70 positions countywide and 7 locally, though we will fill 60 in the next year.” Gore asked about Neighborhood Watch Groups, with the Sheriff saying “That is a public service that does a great job. We are happy to send someone to talk to you, to utilize it.”
Sheriff Marceno ended his 30-minute appearance by saying, “It is an honor to be a part of your team! I am not on the job ‘24/7’ but ‘25/8,’ to deliver a great service, but we can always do better, and that is what this is all about.” To contact the LCSO in an emergency, call 911; for all other matters call 239-477-1000 or see www/sheriffleefl.org.
By Gary Mooney