Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Technological Advances in the Police Department

Tax reform continues to be a popular topic in Tallahassee. The first wave of property tax reform hit the budgets that were adopted by local governments last September. One-third of the cities in the state chose not to comply with the state legislature’s intended reforms (our City Commission voted to comply with the reforms and adjusted the city budget accordingly). The second wave, voted in on January 29, will also affect schools and will be reflected in the budgets to be adopted this September. The third wave is now being considered as the state legislature is in session. Some local government observers, including newspaper opinion writers, are calling on state legislators for careful consideration this time around to prevent core services including police and fire from suffering substantial cutbacks.

The belt-tightening in City departments has required some creativity. In the police department, senior management had already implemented some technology improvements and has expedited this trend by carefully budgeting (and seeking outside funding) for additional technological advances. The use of technology will help improve productivity and the effectiveness of patrol officers. Let’s review the police department’s improvements that have been made and those that are being planned.

Leading-Edge Technology Already in Use (Year provided)
Mobile Data Computers (2002)
These laptop computers installed in patrol cars provide officers with the ability to complete required documents, forms and reports in the field. As a result, preventative patrol time increased and the response to calls for service improved.

Tasers (2007)
Tasers project two small probes via insulated wires and transmit an electrical signal. Violent offenders suffer an immediate loss of neuromuscular control for the duration of the impulse. Each Taser is equipped with an audio-video recording device that allows officers to record information prior to, during, and after its use.

In-Vehicle Video Recording (2007)
Each patrol vehicle is equipped with an in-vehicle audio-video recording system. These devices provide a recording prior to, during, and after calls for service. This provides for accountability, and video evidence.

SOFICS (State of Florida Integrated Citation System, 2007)
SOFICS is a fully automated traffic management system that allows officers to print traffic citations, collect and warehouse data and transmit records electronically to the Clerk of Courts. SOFICS allows for a reduction of personnel resources in the Records Section, as inefficient data entry is no longer required. Efficiency will be further improved when electronic transmittal of records to the Clerk of the Courts is implemented later this year.

LiveScan (2008)
Implemented in 2008, LiveScan allows for the digital submission of offender fingerprints. Positive identification can be obtained on offenders within minutes, and offenders arrested for misdemeanor crimes can be processed at the Police Department rather than the County Jail in Bartow. As a result, operational costs are lowered and officers remain in the community to respond to calls for service.

Leading-Edge Technology Being Planned (year anticipated)
Wireless Camera System (2008)
The Police Department is planning to implement a wireless video camera system to view public areas. The system includes public WI-FI access for residents and will begin with four cameras. Additional cameras will be added in the future, and cameras can be moved as needed.

Thermal Imager (2008)
The Police Department will receive a thermal imager through a Department of Defense technology transfer program. Needing no light to operate, thermal imagers generate high quality images on the darkest nights, even through smoke. Uses will include patrolling construction sites to prevent copper theft.

Chief Herb Gillis substantially contributed to this article.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Spring Break Activities

Hey Moms and Dads! Spring Break is fast approaching! What activities are available for kids during Spring Break week, March 31 – April 4? Here are a few ideas:

  • City Spring Break Camp: open to 6 to 12 year olds, from 8 am to 4:30 pm at the Boys and Girls’ Club, corner of 4th St and Seminole Ave. Cost: $15, includes a tee-shirt. Sign-up forms are available on-line (www.cityoflakewales.com) or come to City Hall (corner of Central Ave. and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd downtown) from 8 am – 5 pm, Monday thru Friday. Sign up and pay at the cashier’s desk.

  • City Basketball Clinic: open to 5 to 15 year olds, from 9 am to noon at the Albert Kirkland Gym, on Third Street near Seminole Ave. Cost: $20. Sign-up forms are available on line or at the cashier’s desk at City Hall as noted above.

  • City Library: open from 9 am to 6:30 pm on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday; from 9 am to 5:30 pm on Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 am to 3 pm on Saturday, on Crystal Ave near Scenic Highway downtown. Activities include:
    • Movie for kids: Open to all children on Monday, March 31, 3 pm.

    • Chess for kids: Open to all children every Saturday, 11:30 am.
    In addition, our library has an extensive collection of both Children’s and Young Adult books, as well as video tapes, CDs, and DVDs to loan for free! There are also magazines, reference materials, and 12 computer stations.

  • Open basketball play: Open to all children afternoons and evenings from 1 pm to 8:30 pm weekdays at the Albert Kirkland Gym, and 1 to 5 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Looking ahead to this summer, some of the activities being planned are as follows:
  • Challenge Summer Soccer Camp sponsored by the Ridge Soccer League: June 23 – 27, East Central Park in Dundee just off Scenic Highway near the Dundee Ridge Middle School. Open to 4 – 6 year olds for the morning sessions, and 6 – 16 year olds in the evenings. Sign up on line at www.challenge.com or call 676-3304.

  • Boys and Girls’ Club Summer Camp: open to 5 year olds who have just finished kindergarten through age 18. Dates are yet to be arranged. Registration will be at the Boys and Girls’ Club, corner of Fourth and Seminole Ave. as follows: the first two weeks in May for members, the last two weeks for non-members.

  • Camp Rock at Hillcrest Elementary School sponsored by Polk County Leisure Services: June 16 – Aug. 8 from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm (four, two-week sessions). Recreation based summer camp program, includes arts & crafts, games, field trips, and special events. Call Brandy Gray at 534-4340 for more information.

  • Title 1 Summer Camp: Janie Howard Wilson Elementary School for selected 3rd, 4th and 5th graders from June 9 - 27 from 8:30 am to 11:30 am or July 28 - Aug. 8 from 8:30 am to 11:30 am. This camp offers tutoring for the next grade level requirements. Call Beverly Lynne at 678-4211 for more information.

  • Gnats Summer Camp: Babson Park Elementary School for K through 5th graders from Monday, June 9 - Aug. 8 from 7:30 am to 6 pm. Activities include arts & crafts, music lessons, swimming, outdoor recreation, nature hikes, tutoring, and computer lab. Call 678-4664 for more information.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

State and County Road Improvements

Street improvements are a hot topic in our town. In addition to the resurfacing of many streets being planned for the spring and summer, some state and county roads are also being reviewed for improvements. Let’s review what is in progress and what is on the drawing board:

  • The granddaddy of street projects in our town is the widening of US 27. The current phase of this project is between Vanguard School and State Road 60, and includes a new bridge over the railroad tracks and special landscaping at Central Avenue. This phase is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2009. Other phases of the widening project will complete the addition of a lane in each direction from SR60 to I-4.

  • The intersection of State Road 17 (Scenic Highway) and Mountain Lake Cutoff Road: Our City Commission has directed staff to follow-up with State and County staff to ensure that improvements are a priority. The County installed the blinking light about 6 years ago, and the State is planning to construct a center turn-lane from all four directions. However, there are strict state guidelines which must be met regarding the volume of traffic before the signal would be installed. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) takes traffic counts on a regular basis, but as yet the volume is not quite there. This project is estimated to cost $2.4 million, with $1.25 million to come from FDOT’s Highway Safety program. The City will be requesting the County’s Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) to add the remainder of the funding needed to their 5-year plan.

  • The installation of raised, grass medians on SR60 from 11th Street to Buck Moore Road. On some sections of SR60 in the City there is a grass median with raised concrete curbs. In the area between 11th Street and Buck Moore Road there is a center, omni-directional turn-lane. This type of design was popular years ago, but has been rejected by FDOT for the last 15 years or more. Grass medians have several safety features: they allow pedestrians a “safe haven” when crossing at designated crosswalks, and they control the places where drivers can turn. The present center lane is sometimes used by drivers as a lane to turn left into and then speed up and merge into a driving lane. This can be dangerous, and FDOT has completed plans for the median in this area. The plans will be displayed and discussed at a special meeting to be announced with the next 30 days.

  • Lighting project on SR60: Several years City staff requested FDOT to install additinal lighting on SR60.

  • A portion of SR60 will be resurfaced: from US 27 to the Scenic Highway overpass. In addition to the resurfacing project, City staff have requested funds for additional landscaping of the existing medians in this area and for signage to direct trucks away from the red railroad bridge at Polk and Scenic.

  • County resurfacing of Burns Avenue: The City Commission has asked that the County resurface Burns Avenue. Preparations for the work have started, and the project is scheduled to be completed before October 2008.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Recognizing Contributions of Citizens

There are many people who are recognized for their personal contributions to our community. These worthy contributors include our Mayor and City Commissioners, those who serve on city advisory boards or other non-profit organization boards, coaches, Voice members, and volunteers. But there are a number of “unsung heroes” in our community who are rarely recognized, and I would like to single out one such individual in this column: Developer Joe Miranda.

I understand that calling a developer an unsung hero may raise a few questions. But let’s take a look at what Joe, who grew up in North Miami, has accomplished in a relatively brief time:
  • In 2000 the City was looking for a developer to work in a new venture, the Longleaf Business Park. This was quite an ambitious project, and some business persons questioned its viability - it is not near I - 4 or a major population center where such parks are typically found. But Joe pushed ahead. For the City’s donation of two lots, Mr. Miranda agreed to build two 50,000 square foot shell buildings to attract new industry to our town. Now there are 7 buildings in the park valued at approximately $15,000,000 and businesses with 250 jobs. The first business to locate in the park, Kegel Industries, was a particular success. In addition to 109 jobs, the building also houses a state-of-the-art center for bowling teams that come from around the world for training. The company also holds approximately 24 tournaments throughout the year. One such event is the International 10-Pin World Tournament, attracting teams from approximately 35 counties. Formerly located in a smaller building in an adjoining county, Kegel has helped put Lake Wales on the business-location map! From this first building built by Miranda Developers, we have a firm that contributes approximately $1,000,000 to the local economy from its training center activities and the tournaments.

  • One of the key tasks of the group that purchased the Lake Wales Medical Center in 2002 was to expand the medical staff and attract new doctors. That resulted in a need for new and contemporary medical office space. To provide this essential space, Joe worked with the hospital and built the attractive two-story building on SR60 near 11th Street that has helped bring in the new doctors and change the face of that area.

  • For many years business persons said that the City needed a new, nationally branded hotel. While he has never been in the hotel business, Joe carefully researched the hotel industry and the local market. He then purchased property on US27 across from the Mall, and a hotel franchise. His new Hampton Inn and Suites opened last month, the first new hotel in 20+ years in Lake Wales and the “first new Hilton prototype design” for all future new and remodeled Hampton Inn and Suites. With pleasing features such as wi-fi throughout the building, meeting rooms, and laptop-friendly tables, this high-end hotel exceeds expectations. Occupancies in the first month have been outstanding. The Hilton inspection team issued an unprecedented quality rating of 98.65% for a newly opened facility.
For our community to succeed, we must have a number of business people who believe in our area to such an extent that they are willing to risk a great amount of capital and locate their project here. These risk-takers deserve special recognition among the “true believers” in our community. With multiple projects accomplished, Joe Miranda is well established in their ranks.