The Lakeland Downtown Development Authority (LDDA) recently engaged Signal88 Security (after an RFP process) to provide security services to the core LDDA district.  The LDDA is a special taxing district funded exclusively by Downtown properties within a defined geographical area and uses those funds in various ways to improve and support the district. No city tax dollars are spent on LDDA activities.

Below are some frequently asked questions and the answers.

Why is the LDDA providing security services?
The Downtown district is growing with new businesses, residents and visitors.  Adding a security presence is one way to add additional eyes and ears to the district to identify issues or problems that need to be addressed, from overflowing garbage cans to disruptive behavior. As out city grows, additional services are needed citywide. The LDDA district is uniquely positioned to fund some of those needs that the businesses and property owners in the LDDA district collectively want.  The LDDA feels strongly that additional police officers should be assigned to Downtown. Downtown’s growth is outpacing the current services provided by the city. Actually, the city as a whole is outpacing the current services and the city is confined to its current budget.  If and when the city adds additional resources to the Lakeland Police Department to address the needs of our growing city as a whole and additional officers can dedicated to Downtown, then LDDA will certainly look to invest those dollars another way.

What is the goal for the security services?
The security officer will be a person who is knowledgable about Downtown – its spaces, businesses and services – in order to assist the public.  He will also familiarize himself with the business owners and staff and be able to recognize them and greet them by name.  He will be an extension of the LDDA staff who already provides services to the Downtown business community by being a resource for solving issues such as broken lights, trip hazards, and trash issues, as well as identifying persons who are engaged in undesirable behaviors on or adjacent to private property.  The security officer will be approachable and friendly and can assist the public as needed. The security officer will not engage in police activity, but will be a resource for LPD for information that may help police patrol the district.

Does this mean the Downtown area is unsafe and full of crime?
Absolutely not.  This is a proactive move, not reactive. Many businesses already have security measures such as cameras to protect their private property.  There are cameras in Munn Park and in the Main Street Garage as well. This is just another tool in the toolbox of deterrence.  And a person can be more responsive and a better deterrent than technology.  When large groups of people gather, additional security for public safety is encouraged.  For example, the city of Lakeland requires event organizers to hire off duty officers as additional “security” when a large event is on or in any city owned property. This is standard procedure. First Fridays have off duty officers. The Spring Obsession Garden Show has officers on site. It just makes sense to have additional personnel who can be responsive if there is a need.  We have many more visitors on a daily and nightly basis in Downtown that in the past.

Why not hire an extra Downtown officer? More LPD? Pay someone overtime?
Frankly, we tried that. Here are the obstacles to success with that model.
1. No control over the personality of the officer assigned. Always someone different.
2. No consistency. Always a different officer who may not be familiar with Downtown, which means a learning curve every shift – where do I go, what am I looking for. No continuity of knowledge.
3. No direct way – dedicated communication – for the businesses to access the officer on duty because every shift may be someone new.
4. Expectations of service not always met. LPD officers ultimately are city employees and answer to their chain of command, not the LDDA. The security officer is an extension of the LDDA. An LPD officer can not be that.  We specifically want the officer on foot, with specific areas of focus to check on throughout the shift.  We found that some of the officers who picked up the shifts we posted did not provide the services we requested.
5. Cost.  With all of the above factors contributing more heavily to the decision to abandon the off duty LPD shifts and go with private security, the cost of an off duty officer far exceeds a private security officer. The cost-benefit analysis did not support continued hiring of off duty police officers.

Is the City of Lakeland/General City Taxpayers paying for this?
No.  LDDA is a special taxing district. Property owners within the boundary agreed to tax themselves and use those funds to improve the district.  No city funds or tax dollars fund any LDDA activities. The purpose is to provide security of all kinds to the Downtown business and property district – which they have every right to do with their own money.

Are you just trying to harass the homeless?
We are interested in deterring bad behaviors. Period. The security officer will not engage in harassment of anyone.  It is not a crime to be homeless and the LDDA is very clear that this is not a response to homelessness. It is recognition that with more people, there is the potential for  more engagement in undesirable behaviors.  Business owners and property owners have every right to add an additional layer of protection against those behaviors for the sake of their employees and customers and properties. Downtown is blessed with many large and attractive public spaces which are open for use by everyone in the community.  But unlike our own private living rooms where the impacts of our words/actions are confined and unmonitored by the world, public spaces are where we interact with others. Public spaces require all of us to adopt a set of minimum standards of behavior that are appropriate for a community space. Verbal fighting, physical fighting, public urination or defecation, indecent exposure, intimidation, blocking access to public right of way are all behaviors in public spaces that I think everyone can agree should be discouraged. If a security presence can help deter those behaviors then we are successful. But homelessness in and of itself is not a crime nor a public nuisance.  So no one in the park will be harassed or intimidated.  As for behavior on private property, owners have every right not to share electricity, have folks use their alcoves and doorways as bathrooms or sleeping quarters, have unruly persons escorted from their property, and to disrupt other “business activities” not related to their business that others may be trying to engage in with their customers. And those behaviors are not exclusive to homeless persons.

What about panhandling?
Panhandling is a protected form of speech. But no one has the right to solicit (panhandle) people or attempt who are on private property or property leased by a private business for exclusive use, such as sidewalk cafes.  No one has the right to impede the entrances of businesses so as to intercept a customer with the purpose of asking that person for money. The security officer can and will ask panhandlers to vacate private property and can and will offer assistance to someone who may be approached by a panhandler.  The security officer also has the protected speech of explaining why the downtown businesses prefer that folks not give individuals money and help educate the public on how panhandling hurts the individual and community more than it helps. Panhandling is not an epidemic in Downtown, but we do have a handful of chronic panhandlers who are not homeless at all. This is their business to support their drug habits, and their previous convictions and criminal histories are public record.  We know them by name. We have every right to educate the public about what we know.

Why armed security?
The security officer is going to be asked to patrol, on foot, dark corners of our Downtown. For his personal protection it is prudent to be armed.  He may stumble upon some unsavory and illegal activity. As stated before, the security officer is not going to engage in police work.  The expectation is that his presence would lead to fewer calls for service.  For example, we don’t want to “catch people” defecating in the alley. We want to deter them from doing it because someone is around patrolling.  This is not about punishment. It’s about creating a safe space that is less attractive to those who want to abuse public spaces and adjacent private spaces unmonitored and undetected.