CASSELBERRY, Fla. – When violence spiked last year in Casselberry, the police chief asked the federal government for help.
The Casselberry Police Department is one of only several across Florida that was given a $325,000 grant to combat the violence.
The department started a Community Response Squad, a three-person team with the flexibility to work whenever and wherever in the city they're needed.
Sgt. Robert Martin, who leads the squad, said patrol officers were busy responding to crime. He said the CRS tries to prevent crime by looking into complaints, concerns, issues and growing problems that otherwise might go unaddressed.
"One of the complaints we've gotten is people will come to parks throughout the course of the day with their children and people are in the park drinking or using drugs," Martin said. "It takes away from the family atmosphere of the park."
So the CRS began patrolling Plumosa Oaks Park day and night and arrested several marijuana dealers in the parking lot.
"We've had a lot of violence we've been able to relate to drug activity," Martin said. "Fights, people chase others with guns and some shootings. We noticed a spike in violent crime associated with drug use, violence between users and dealers, and some homicides."
A 17-year-old was shot to death sitting in his car with his friends at a Casselberry park last New Year's Day.
And two women were murdered last year at Casselberry apartment complexes. Their boyfriends were charged with killing them.
Martin said the CRS targeted a neighborhood off Lake Drive where some of the violence was occurring. They discovered people were dealing meth out of two homes.
"Certainly, by going after those specific groups and locking them up, we've removed them from the neighborhood," Martin said. "It's been quiet, can't say perfect but work in progress."
The CRS also does traffic stops in areas where there have been problems, building a database of suspicious people.
"The biggest thing is we document who's in the park when and where, so later we have a reference to go to for who's been around," Martin said.
The Casselberry Police Department shares the database with other law enforcement agencies to keep track of offenders who cross city or county lines.
The grant pays for the three officers for the next three years.