Palm Bay police to spend grant money on food trailer, bicycles to build community trust

Grant pays for community-oriented officers, food trailer and bicycles

PALM BAY, Fla. – Money can’t exactly buy relationships but it can pay for the hiring of officers to build them.

The Palm Bay Police department is using federal grant money to pay the salaries of six police officers specifically to do community-oriented policing.

The grant application includes the word “legitimacy.”

“The City of Palm Bay Police Department is seeking to apply for grant funding to focus on community trust and legitimacy, and youth engagement,” the grant reads. “The Department is seeking to utilize the grant funds to develop a new program, ‘The Palm Bay Police Department Community Connections Initiative.’ To increase community trust and legitimacy, the proposed initiative will equip the Community Resources Unit (CRU) with tools that will enable them to better engage the community.”

Lt. Jeff Spears helped write the grant.

“We want our community to know that we’re real,” Spears said. “We are in a tough time in our society and our country as many know where law enforcement are looked at more so than ever before. So what we want our community to know is that all our officers are real. And we truly need them to help make our communities safer, to help solve crime. And so it’s easy for us to say it’s who we are, but to do that, action is even more important. To have a unit to go deliver our philosophy is what the grant was designed for.”

Officer Ryan Austin is one of the six police officers in the CRU.

He spends much of his time at the Evans Center in the Powell subdivision of Palm Bay near Driscoll Heights.

In the days before News 6 visited, there was a shooting up the street.

“Tomorrow night we have their HOA meeting that we’ll go to where I’ll provide an update to every member in attendance,” Austin said. “And maybe they’ll give us some information that maybe we’re looking for this car and they’ll say ‘oh I saw this car last week at that house.’ That has happened and it’ll happen again.”

Longtime Powell resident Connie McClary is the Crime Watch president.

“That’s why I tell people, ‘always make sure you have communication with your police officer,’ because all police officers are not bad and we have some of the best in Palm Bay,” McClary said.

Spears said already the CRU has gotten results.

“Then we work together as a team and make it as peaceful as we possibly can,” Lt. Spears said. “We have seen crime decrease because of that.”

Spears said since the first grant is improving relationships and decreasing crime, the police department is applying for a second one to buy six bicycles and a food trailer.

Officers will bring the food trailer to where children are, parks especially in the summertime, and hand out free lunches and snacks.

“Us giving rather than us always wanting information back,” Spears said.

The grant application explains the intentions for the bicycles and trailer:

“As the CRU officers patrol neighborhoods in patrol cars, it may be difficult for citizens to approach or converse with the officers when they are inside their vehicles. If the patrolling officers were not confined within a vehicle, they may be able to connect with members of the community more easily. Outfitting the CRU officers with patrol bicycles, gear, and training for bike patrol, will allow the expanded unit to better serve and connect with the community while promoting engagement with through a more approachable, recreational patrol presence throughout the city. This equipment will also allow officers access to areas that are restricted or difficult for vehicles to reach, such as parks and trails. For Youth Engagement, the Department requires resources that have a positive impact on our community, particularly youth who are potentially at-risk and may live in low-income communities. During the summer months when school is out, youth gather in the parks throughout the city. The CRU would like to develop more opportunities to meet the youth who utilize city parks and connect with them in a fun, relaxed environment. Staff is seeking to utilize grant funds to purchase a 12-foot concession trailer to prepare quick lunches or snacks for the children in the community parks. This will not only have a positive impact on the children, but also strengthen the agency’s connection with these children by having law enforcement interact with them in a beneficial way. This trailer can also be used for preplanned, community outreach initiatives within the city.”

Spears said the police department will purchase the bikes and trailer as soon as the grant is approved which could happen as early as October.

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.