The Fort Walton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency held a workshop last Tuesday focused on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and how it can be used to reduce crime and vagrancy.
- CPTED uses design elements in buildings and public spaces to naturally discourage unwanted activities, explained CRA Administrator Alisa Burleson during the workshop.
“We have already been successful in some of the programs that we’re working on,” Burleson said.
One successful project was installing a fence and security cameras at the Gulfview Hotel to prevent trespassing and loitering between air conditioning units and on the balcony, a spot Burleson said had become “almost a tent city” at one point.
Since the August installation of cameras, police calls to the site have dropped from nine incidents in November to just one in December.
- “It’s definitely decreased issues of people camping out or any problems at the Gulfview with the stuff that we have implemented,” Burleson said. “That is an encouraging estimate. In just a few months, it’s made a difference.”
Other simple, low-cost successes highlighted included blocking off under-ramp sleeping spots downtown and adding a fence to enclose a utilities area near Catholic Charities that had become an ad-hoc homeless encampment.
Going forward, Burleson has been conducting lighting analysis with the Fort Walton Beach Police Department on problem roadways — including Harbeson Avenue between First Street and Miracle Strip Parkway, which saw 58 police reports in the last year. An upcoming project with Florida Power & Light will add more streetlights.
- “Lighting is a major key with CPTED,” Burleson said. “You put light on the subject and usually that subject doesn’t want to be seen.”
The CRA used nuisance abatement grants to have overgrown trees cut down along Carson Drive Southeast, another area of focus, including a freshened up cul-de-sac and cleared a lot. Burleson said seeing progress on the street has encouraged private investment as more homeowners fix up and resell houses.
CRA staff is also beginning to analyze issues with Sound Park across from City Hall, where the gazebo has become a magnet for vagrancy.
- CRA Board Member David Schmidt made a motion during the workshop calling for a full CPTED evaluation within weeks and options to install police-monitored security cameras at the park.
To expand CPTED efforts, Burleson announced an upcoming training in February for police officers and other staff to become certified CPTED practitioners. A new CPTED grant program is also being launched for residents where the city will cover the costs of improvements (cap of $10,000) like lights and fencing that can help the city’s anti-crime goals.
- “We can’t develop downtown [Fort Walton Beach] and people aren’t going to want to come and put their businesses downtown if they’re worried about crime and vagrants,” Burleson told the board. “So we’ve got to address safety before we can sell. That’s what we’re working on.”
CRA board members praised the preventative approach being taken. Board Member Nic Allegretto called it “one of the best, if not the best presentation” he’s seen during his tenure as a council-member.
City Manager Jeff Peters said the emphasis now is on fixing problems with vagrancy instead of simply removing benches and gazebos due to misuse.
- “We’re talking about removing the gazebo across the street at the Sound Park. That was a $25,000 gazebo. It can be nice,” he said to the board. “We need to fix the problem and let the people actually enjoy it and I think this does help.”
The goal now is to “make our parks and areas of our CRA District more safe and secure to our citizens and visitors in Fort Walton Beach, and deter negative influences,” added Burleson.