Arrests are up in Zephyrhills, but overall crime trends are down citywide.
That’s according to Zephyrhills Police Department Chief Derek Brewer, who was the featured guest speaker at the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce July breakfast meeting.
Brewer said arrests in Zephyrhills have increased each of the last three years, topping out at 1,077 in 2018.
That’s up from 1,047 arrests in 2017 and 942 in 2016, respectively.
Many of the agency’s arrests are related to narcotics and property crimes, Brewer said, noting those crimes “go hand in hand” and are where a majority of the problems are in the city.
There were 288 narcotics arrests and 268 property crimes arrests in 2018 alone.
Brewer explained many of those arrests have been initiated by the department’s street crimes unit — a special response team tasked with “attacking some of the problems in the city” on a daily basis, whether its traffic complaints, narcotics, burglaries, thefts and so on.
“A lot of our attention has been on narcotics and property crimes. If we can attack the narcotics problem, a lot of times property crimes will be reduced,” said Brewer, an 18-year veteran of the department who’s served as chief for about two years.
Brewer stated an added emphasis on narcotics and property crimes has led to a reduction in Zephyrhills’ overall crime rate (total number of crimes of offenses reported) in each of the past four years. The city experienced its biggest crime rate reduction of 19.2 percent last year, he said.
“Our crime trends are continuing to go down, our strategy seems to be working,” Brewer said.
“I know people will see certain individuals in town and will say, ‘Boy, we still have a drug problem,’ but I’m telling you we’re attacking it, and it is making a difference in our crime reduction.”
Aside from crime prevention and reduction efforts, Brewer highlighted some ongoing initiatives within the police department.
For instance, the agency recently implemented a citizen volunteer crossing guard program at West Zephyrhills Elementary School, with plans to expand it to Woodland Elementary School in the near future. The department is looking for more volunteers, who will be trained and then deployed at local schools.
So far, the crossing guard program has gotten “amazing feedback” from the West Zephyrhills Elementary community, Brewer said.
“We have noticed since we put the crossing guard program in West (Zephyrhills Elementary), people are slowing down a lot more, and we certainly feel better about providing more safety for the kids,” he added.
Brewer emphasized that the department has heightened its community involvement efforts, particularly in terms of youth outreach programs.
One such initiative, called “Operation Chill,” involves police officers giving children a Slurpee drink coupon when seen in public “doing the right thing.”
Officers also are involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters “Bigs in Blue” mentorship program, where they spend one-to-one time mentoring a child at a neighborhood school.
“We’re in front of our youth frequently,” Brewer said. The agency’s goal is to be “highly visible” and “make the community pro-police and the police to be pro-community.”
The chief also discussed the impact of body cameras, since the agency required all officers to wear them about a year ago.
The Axon Body 2 cameras are installed on all Zephyrhills police officers and patrol cars. They activate automatically whenever an officer’s taser or firearm is deployed.
Brewer said the body camera program has been “incredibly helpful” for evidence collection, and also for dismissing frivolous citizen complaints against officers.
“In my opinion, it’s been a great program,” Brewer said. “I know that some people are against the body cameras, including officers, but I think even the officers that were against it, they’re starting to come around because they’re seeing that these complaints are getting squashed pretty quickly.”
The department also is exploring the possibility of police academy training sponsorships to attract more police officers. The department currently has 34 sworn police officers and 16 civilian employees.
There has been turnover in recent years, Brewer acknowledged. It also is becoming increasingly difficult to find qualified officers and people interested in law enforcement careers, he said.
“I just don’t think people want to be police officers anymore, just because of all the stuff that comes with it,” Brewer said.
Published July 17, 2019