PINELLAS PARK — The sight of police officers zipping along on Segways will greet drivers along Park Boulevard sometime in the next few months.
The Segways, along with a Smart car and a canvas-topped Polaris Ranger all-terrain vehicle, will be the fleet for the Pinellas Park Police Department's newest patrol unit, which will cover the city's redevelopment area.
A $1 million federal stimulus grant will fund the program. The Pinellas Park proposal was one of about 1,000 chosen from about 7,700 total. The four Segways will cost about $27,160. The Smart car will cost about $13,995, and the Ranger is about $12,287.
"It is very ambitious," Capt. Mike Haworth, second in command of the Police Department, said of the program. The plan has elements from other community policing programs across the country, he said, but none is exactly like the Pinellas Park plan.
The seven-person unit will be made up of four officers, plus a detective, an expert in homeless issues and a lieutenant who will specialize in issues in the community redevelopment area. The Community Redevelopment Area is generally the three-block area on either side of Park Boulevard from U.S. 19 to 66th Street N. Part of the CRA extends for three blocks on either side of 49th Street immediately north and south of the Park Boulevard intersection.
"It's all about relationships," Haworth said.
The Segways and other vehicles, he said, are designed to get officers closer to the people they'll be covering, as well as to encourage residents and business owners to approach the cops. After the ice is broken, Haworth said, he wants the officers to ask what they can do to make life better for area businesses and residents.
Haworth said he believes a special kind of officer is needed for the program.
When people apply for the position, they will go through a traditional interview but will also be asked to solve a problem like what do you do with an abandoned house that's acting as a magnet for homeless people? There's no right answer to the question, Haworth said, but it will give applicants a chance to show their problem-solving skills and creativity. Team members will come from officers who are already working for the department, he said.
The CRA was created in the late 1990s as a way to take some tax money and use it exclusively in that area. The 1,300 to 1,600 acres in the CRA have between 1,500 and 2,000 of the city's 4,500 businesses. It also has some of the most lucrative real estate in the city. The Shoppes at Park Place and Home Depot have a value of about $62.5 million, Haworth said.
Pinellas Park officials have often thought of the area as being the city's downtown. They have long wanted to find ways to encourage businesses to locate there and to lure shoppers into the small mom-and-pop businesses they envisioned there.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at (727) 893-8450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.