News-Sun photo by KATARA SIMMONS The Avon Park Police Department is currently located in the Flight Operations Base building at the Avon Park Executive Airport.
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published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
City and Sheriff mutually pleased with transition
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
AVON PARK -- City council members voted in 2011 to downsize its police department drastically and contract with the Highlands County Sheriff's Office to take over law enforcement services for the city. The transfer occurred Oct. 1, 2012.
Three months later, the News-Sun sat down with Sheriff Susan Benton, Major Booker Johnson, who heads the HCSO Northern Division, and Lt. Randy Labelle, who directs the deputies dedicated to Avon Park. The paper contacted City Manager Julian Deleon, and Public Safety Director Jason Lister as well.
All are pleased with how the transition from city police department to sheriff's office has been.
"We're right on track," Benton said. "It's been just seamless. Hats off to my Human Relations staff for making it happen. They did a supreme job."
"In three months we've had unbelievable positive feedback, for instance from the Rotary. Walmart too -- at one call, 14 deputies responded," Labelle said.
Deleon is just as pleased.
"The city of Avon Park has not incurred any budgetary impacts beyond what was initially proposed and contracted between the city and the sheriff," he said.
The Sheriff's Office provided the News-Sun with copies of the service invoices for October and November, as well as the most recent expenditures report. The sheriff also took a reporter on a complete tour of the former APPD headquarters, which now serves as the sheriff's Northern Division command center.
The sheriff's October invoice requested $77,535 for general law enforcement services, and $6,125 for school resource officers, for a total of $83,660. The School Board of Highlands County pays the other 50 percent for school resource officers.
November's invoice was only a tad higher -- $77,535 for general services and $5,727, for school resource officers -- a total of $84,400.
According to the expenditures report, at this point in the fiscal year 29.67 percent of the budget has been spent -- on a par with the HCSO in general, Benton said. She added that the money went to salaries, wages, and standard operating costs, like fuel. She and Deleon emphasized the contingency fund, created in case of emergencies or overages, has not been touched.
There have been no renovations to the building, Benton said, except for carpeting in one room, one new door installed, and lots of paint, which was done by inmates and "didn't cost a dime."
The News-Sun saw no new construction, no remodeling; no new light fixtures, counters or walls. Most of the chairs and desks came with the building and are worn and scuffed from use. Computers were mostly brought in from other HCSO offices.
Sheriff's Office personnel were taken aback by the condition of the building when they moved in. "It was not the caliber we had expected," Benton said. Dirt was ground in, record keeping incomplete and evidence disorganized. The sheriff locked off the APPD evidence room from the rest of the offices to protect the chain of evidence -- the contents are solely the responsibility of the police department.
Benton said the city will benefit when the new lab and evidence storage building are built. She added Avon Park already receives more street coverage than before, has more detectives dedicated to its residents and a sergeant on duty at the station at all times. Additionally, equipment has been upgraded.
In her conversation with the News-Sun, Benton explained the current contract with the city is a "stop-gap" measure. "We're preparing a new four-year contract; the budget opens every year." she said.
The current APPD consists of Lister and former sergeant, now Commander Brian Robinson. As director, Lister is responsible for all police matters occurring before October 2012. But one of his main functions is community relations, which primarily means working with neighborhoods and groups, creating, planning and organizing events that bring people together -- for instance the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade, to which the Sheriff's Office also contributed.
"As in any town, the more people who attend community activities, the more community events there will be. The more community events, the (stronger) a community becomes," Lister said. "We are planning a lot with the Community Redevelopment Agency's advisory boards, and the chamber."
Lister and Robinson are responsible for the Municipal Airport. "We are in charge of the entire facility, from maintenance to dealing with the Federal Aviation Administration," Lister said. He added, "Everyone is welcome to drop by or call."
The APPD offices are in the Flight Operations Building at 1535 State Road 64. The telephone number is 452-4419.
They can not afford it (by: Fortune400 - 1/25/2013)
I believe the reason they kept two "police officers" and the "police department" is because they can not afford the police pension pay out to retirees and officers they are already vested in the pension.
Cheifs No Indians (by: L46J5 - 1/24/2013)
Excuse the political incorrectness. But what is the need of a Director and Commander, where are all the subordinate employees? There must be more to this story as to why they kept the PD around.
Very Smart (by: Blindman - 1/23/2013)
Given Avon Park's history concerning the evidence room, it was wise to immediately isolate it. Lol
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