Thursday, April 2, 2015

Visiting the Punta Gorda Police Department

Police Chief Butch Arenal
Our most recent session of the Citizens' Academy found us at the Punta Gorda Police Department.  Chief Butch Arenal kicked off the session by saying he wanted us to pay attention to the people in the PGPD, not the equipment. He then introduced us to some members of his "leadership team."  I thought we were at the police department, not a corporation.  What's going on here????

It turns out that Chief Arenal spends a good amount of time thinking about organizational culture. There are apparently two models for police departments: the traditional paramilitary police model and a private sector business model. The Chief's approach to guarding the residents of Punta Gorda is to merge these two models, with a heavy emphasis on the business side of the equation. The result: In 2013,  the PGPD was named the Pinnacle Business of the Year by the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce. 

What this means in practice is that the Department applies a number of business metrics to its analysis of how well it provides its services. Like every other department in the City of Punta Gorda, the Police Department has a serious focus on customer service. Staff volunteers follow up with people who requested police service to get their feedback -- and the information is diseeminated throughout the department.  Among other things, this practice promotes accountability. (So does having each police car painted with the name of the officer who drives it.)  To read about some of the other reasons why the PGPD won the Pinnacle Award, click here.

In other PGPD news:

--The PGPD has been awarded Excelsior Status by the Florida Commission of Law Enforcement Accreditation. Achieving this status requires that the Department receive accreditation without conditions for five consecutive terms (for a total of 15 years).  Fewer than 10% of the 400 law enforcement agencies in Florida have attained this status.

Lt. Joe King with PGPD bike and segway
--Youth programs are one of the PGPD's primary focus areas.  The Jammers Youth Basketball League is a co-ed summer basketball league coached by off-duty police officers.  The Jazzy Jammers Cheer & Dance Squad is kicking off this year for girls who don't play basketball. These programs provide an opportunity for the officers to serve as role models and mentors to at-risk kids in our community.  The PGPD also runs DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), Do the Right Thing and School Resource Officer programs. (The School Resource Officer at Charlotte High has to get around on a segway since the campus covers 60 acres!)

--And now for some crime statistics (which, you might notice, are not the lead given the relative lack of crime in our community!) Chief Arenal shared the 2014 Uniform Crime Report Numbers with us. Overall, the crime rate in Punta Gorda was down 10% from 2013, and violent crime was essentially non-existent.  The Chief reported that, "We don't allow murders in Punta Gorda," and the record reflects that policy.  Forcible assaults were down from two in 2013 to zero in 2014 and aggravated assaults were down from 17 to five.  There were 39 burglaries last year (which includes bike thefts).  The Chief commented that in Punta Gorda, one or two burglaries constitutes a "rash" of thefts.

K9 Officer Lee Coel and Spirit
--Our reward for listening attentively to the Chief was a show-and-tell session. First, we spent a little time with K9 Officer Lee Coel and Spirit. Spirit is a 2-1/2 year old German Shepherd that was born in Czechoslavakia. (Among other characteristics, European German Shepherds have stronger knees than their American counterparts.) Spirit was selected from 22 dogs at a North Carolina kennel that raises dogs to be used by the military and police. Officer Coel and Spirit then went to a five month training school where Spirit became certified as a narcotics dog. (K9s can be certified in drugs or bombs, but not both.) In a recent K9 trial for the FL/GA/ALA region, Spirit came in 11th overall and 3rd in criminal apprehension. Coel and Spirit came in second as a team. Spirit's work life is expected to span nine-ten years.     

--Last  up was a Taser demonstration that two Citizens Academy students participated in. (I was jealous.)  After moving the front row of students out of harm's way, each participant aimed her weapon--which discharges 50,000 volts of electricity--at a paper target and let it rip.  I had always thought Tasers were pure streams of electricity, but it turns out there are two wires with metal prongs on the end that shoot out. The ideal is for one prong to go straight and the other to hit at a seven degree angle down so you strike the target both above and below the waist.  (The students did a good job of disabling their perps.) The most times members of the PGPD have had to actually Tase suspects in one year is seven. The officers have found that the mere threat of using a Taser (or letting a K9 loose, for that matter) is generally sufficient to persuade the suspect to surrender.

All in all, it was another interesting and enlightening session of the Citizens Academy.  As they used to say in Hill Street Blues, "Let's be careful out there."    

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