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Considering the serious problems that plagued the Largo Police Department in recent years, first-year police Chief Lester Aradi must have been buoyed by the results of a recent citizen survey.
Almost 80 percent of those who responded to the mail survey rated the department excellent or good in overall services provided. Many respondents added comments praising the department, the chief or individual officers.
Criticisms that residents tacked on to the end of the survey form usually were minor: "The lady from code enforcement is over zealous;" "Pursuit of gangs is not active;" "Largo officers do not obey traffic laws;" "Police should use their turn signals;" "I have seen dozens of dogs running loose." Perhaps the nature of those complaints is an indicator that for most people, Largo is a safe, quiet place to live.
There were a few issues that concerned a lot of the respondents.
A favorite complaint was about motorists who violate traffic laws without any apparent fear of consequences. Many respondents complained about road rage, speeders in their neighborhoods and people running red lights, making illegal turns and not using their turn signals, sometimes in full view of officers who did nothing about the infractions. Many residents wrote that they want the police to do a better job on traffic law enforcement.
Respondents were even more critical on the issue of police visibility in their neighborhoods. Only 25.7 percent rated the department excellent on police presence in their neighborhoods. More than 15 percent rated the department poor on that question.
One of the most interesting results of the survey came to a question that asked residents to rank police duties by order of priority. More than 96 percent agreed that responding to crimes in progress was the highest priority of the department. Here are other top priorities and the percentage that gave them "high priority:"
Enforcing drunk driving laws: 88.5 percent
Investigating local drug sales and dealers: 88.2 percent
Discouraging aggressive and reckless driving: 82.1 percent
Discouraging crime in general: 80.7 percent
What was near the bottom of the list? Less than 20 percent of respondents gave high priority to enforcing city codes, water sprinkling violations and parking laws. Only 37.3 percent thought enforcing the city's much debated but politically popular juvenile curfew should be a high priority for the Police Department.
Many more people thought it was important for police officers to be working in the schools. More than 72 percent said it should be a high priority for officers to provide drug and violence prevention education in elementary and middle schools. Almost 55 percent said maintaining a police presence in schools should be a high priority for the department.
Aradi, who says he read every survey returned to the department and already has acted on some suggestions, will be holding meetings with department leaders in the next month to develop strategies to tackle some of the problems raised by residents.
Clearly, residents are worried about safety on the roads. Largo -- because of its central, inland location -- gets a lot of pass-through traffic. People are in a hurry to get through the city and on to their destinations: a recipe for fast, careless driving. What isn't revealed in the survey is whether Largo has an unusually high number of traffic accidents or whether there are particular bottlenecks that frustrate drivers. The Police Department, working closely with traffic engineers, may be able to do more than just hand out tickets.
Largo residents are no different than the residents of other cities in wanting to see more police in their neighborhoods and better enforcement of traffic laws. They say they have a good department; they just want it to be better and do more.
That sometimes means that more officers are needed, which translates to more money for their salaries, training and equipment. Aradi has noted that several new officers will come on board in the next year to fill vacant positions, and he already is repositioning existing officers to address some of his own and residents' priorities. Whether that will be enough, and whether residents will be asked in future budget discussions to support the Police Department with their wallets as well as their words, remains to be seen.