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Community policing stirs controversy in Sarasota, Fla.

Posted at 5:19 PM, Sep 22, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-22 19:43:05-04

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Efforts to revitalize the Sarasota Police Department's community policing program are taking a step forward. Tomorrow, police will host another community forum to get input from newtown residents. They hope to help decrease crime in the area.

From her first day on the job, Chief Bernadette DiPino has been talking about community policing.

“I strongly believe in that development of relationships and partnerships with our community," the Chief said during her swearing in back in 2013.

Some would say DiPino is a perfect fit, since the City of Sarasota has been working to implement similar plans for years.

But the issue of community policing has once again come to the forefront, as law enforcement and residents prepare for an initiative called "A New Beginning for Newtown."

"The main goal of it is to get our community receptive to partnering with the police department in order to keep our community safe," says DiPino. “We can’t do it alone as police officers, we need the eyes and ears of the citizens. We need their active support and participation in reporting crimes."

The slogan “Blue and you equals a safer community” is being used to promote the initiative, which came to a head when Sarasota Police Department showed surveillance video to city officials that showed a crowd gathered along MLK Way in which an armed individual shoots into the air before waving the gun several times.

The shooter was later apprehended, but the situation sparked what some called a compromise between businesses and the police: merchants would agree to close stores along the MLK corridor earlier to discourage crowds from gathering late at night.

Yassir Hassan is the owner of Dread's Food Store, and he says he never made any agreements and his restaurant has since suffered.

"Well, everybody scared you gonna get a ticket or a violation for, like, trespassing,” he says. “We missing a lot of money, we missing a lot of customers."

Hassan says the recent efforts to community police didn’t include him, and his restaurant -- once open until 4 a.m. -- is being forced to shut down early.

"I never agree to close my business at 2:30 a.m., that’s when I start making my money," he says.

Hassan isn't alone. Some say the recent effort to community police is just another way to unfairly target Newtown residents.

"If they target Siesta Key I’m more than sure they'll find more crime on Siesta Key,” says resident Lance Shabaz. “If you target St. Armand Circle you have more crime on St. Armands Circle, so any time you put a bulls-eye, you are going to find a lot."