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Survey: Clearwater residents fret over traffic

Nearly 90 percent of residents contacted feel the city is a safe place.

The same four crime-related problems have been listed as top concerns of city residents for nearly a decade, a Clearwater Police Department survey shows.

Traffic tops the 1998-99 version of the department's Customer Satisfaction Survey list, followed by burglary, vandalism and drugs.

In the previous survey, burglary was listed as the major concern, with traffic a close second. Vandalism ranked third, followed by drugs.

Since 1990, the department has conducted the survey annually, except in 1996-97. In all the surveys, the same four problems appeared, in various orders.

The study is designed to give police some insight into the attitudes and opinions of residents. Questions were mailed to 3,000 randomly selected Clearwater residents last year, and 978 responded, grading the Police Department, its officers and its performance.

As in past years, nearly 90 percent of residents who responded indicated they feel Clearwater is a safe place to live, work or conduct business. About 76 percent felt the overall competence of the department is good or very good.

"Overall, it's a pretty good report card," police Chief Sid Klein said Monday. "It gives us the mechanism to look at where we can improve and how we can plan to use our resources.

"People feel the city is safe. That, to me, is the most important thing."

Klein was not surprised that traffic ranks as the top problem for residents. Clearwater is a tourist destination, with the resulting seasonal increase in traffic. Inadequate streets and intersections compound the problem.

"The lack of sufficient roadways winds up as problems in our lap," he said. "The issue of traffic really touches every citizen."

In 1999, Klein formed the department's Traffic Section. This 14-person section includes a motorcycle unit, DUI enforcement team and a hit-and-run investigator. Previously, a sergeant and five to seven officers were assigned to handle traffic problems.

The department also has conducted special operations aimed at curbing road rage incidents by targeting aggressive drivers.

Last month, Klein began what he called a departmentwide burglary initiative that involves using patrol officers and community policing teams in addition to detectives for investigating burglaries. The new crime analysis unit will be pinpointing burglary problem areas for extra patrol and neighborhood warnings.

The chief acknowledged that the same four problems have been cited each time the department's survey is done.

"These problems are not going to go away," Klein said. "Our goal is to prevent, to reduce, to eliminate and to educate. We try to come up with new approaches without impacting our resources, which have remained static."

As part of the survey, residents are asked to include their comments about the department or their concerns. Many people praised the department, while others requested more patrols or criticized the department.

"Keep up the good work. Thank you for being there," one resident wrote.

Noting that the department overall is good, another resident said: "I do believe (officers) could improve on their personality and helpfulness. From what I've seen, they enjoy rough stuff and arrest instead of diplomacy."