- September 8, 2022
Representatives from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office addressed a number of Horizon West residents’ concerns during a safety event, held Tuesday, Aug. 23, at the Summerport Clubhouse.
The event, organized by longtime Summerport resident Jeff Loeffert, addressed topics such as the Sheriff’s Office rezoning, population growth, school safety, transportation safety, golf cart requirements and the Citizens on Patrol program.
The community panel included David Terry, Legacy Events for Education president and executive director, Summerlake resident; Keith Greiveldinger, Hickory Hammock resident; Andy Lundell and Kevin Adams, Summerport residents; Dennis Ela, OCSO captain; Randy Yim, OCSO sergeant; and Sherrie Lewis, crime prevention deputy.
Loeffert said his goal with the meetings, which he holds informally about once a year since 2016, is to allow Horizon West residents to check in with deputies from OCSO in a comfortable setting where they can provide feedback, ask questions and gain safety insight.
“The inspiration is really to bring people together, neighborhoods together so we can leverage each other’s knowledge base and resources, and more importantly have a voice at the county level,” Loeffert said.
STAFFING AND DEPLOYMENT
Ela, Sector 3 captain in Horizon West, discussed three key topics with the help of his fellow officers: staffing, deployment and zone redistricting.
The captain said the agency includes about 2,500 people with 130 authorized personnel in Sector 3, which stretches across the west side of Orange County, bordering Lake County to the west and extending east to Orange Blossom Trail. The area encompasses some of the county’s oldest and well-established communities, ranging from Orlo Vista, Winter Garden, Pine Hills and Ocoee, to some of the county’s most affluent areas, including the areas of Windermere, Dr. Phillips and MetroWest.
Ela said the agency’s focus is on the safety of its citizens, and staffing is deployed based upon part-one crimes, which include homicide, robbery, aggravated persons crimes, sex crimes, auto thefts, residential burglaries, commercial burglaries and auto burglaries.
Major events such as shootings, robberies, barricaded suspects, missing endangered people and protracted events require large staffing, causing personnel to be pulled from all areas as needed, he said.
The Horizon West area has experienced a mass increase in growth from 18,000 residents in 2011 to 70,000 residents in 2022.
According to the OCSO, Horizon West had 140 total part-one crimes in 2019, 14 violent; 114 total part-one crimes in 2020, 18 violent; 174 total part-one crimes in 2021, 14 violent; and 100 part-one crimes year to date in 2022, 12 violent.
Ela said although he cannot give an exact response rate time — that depends on the crime and what is occurring that day — if there is a life emergency situation, the average response rate is well under three minutes.
Ela said the lack of resources to service the large amount of area is one of the largest factors, although the issue is not unique to Orange County.
As of Aug. 1, the Pine Hills area, which has about 78,000 residents, has reported 751 part-one crimes, 240 violent, drawing personnel from other areas to address the crimes.
To address the majority of Sector 3 assets being currently deployed in Pine Hills, the OCSO will undergo a redistricting, after which Pine Hills no longer will be assigned in the sector. More personnel will be deployed in Horizon West, with smaller geographic responsibilities.
As part of the rezoning, Ela said the department is in the process of creating a new Computer-Aided Design system through a new company, a multi-year project to address updates needed for the mapping system. The data from more than 20 years must be transcribed into an acceptable format for the new system.
Loeffert said the community has been hearing about the software updates for at least five years and is frustrated by the amount of time it is taking.
“I very much look forward to this transition,” Ela said. “It has been a long and complicated process. … April is the projected live kickoff date. … My hope and goal is that the new zoning and redistricting will allow Horizon West to almost 100% fall into one zone.”
As far as a substation in the Horizon West area, the captain said it is his hope to have one in the area, but the government allocates the stations, not the police.
Ela said he has had discussions with District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson about a potential substation, and she is interested in pursuing one in the future, but the department has no control over the development.
Another challenge the department faces is the lack of trust the community has in its law enforcement based on disingenuous information. This contributes to setbacks in staffing, as well as the time it takes to train new officers.
Although the sector has authorized 130 personnel, it currently sits at about 105 since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and unrest after Black Lives Matter protests arose in 2020.
Ela said he enjoys attending community events to help overcome that challenge.
“It provides me the opportunity to directly communicate with the community that I serve, answer questions, dispel rumors and provide education regarding a wide variety of topics,” he said. “Additionally, it allows me to hear first-hand what the concerns of the community are and address those moving forward.”
One of the most popular crimes the area is known for is car burglaries.
According to Sheriff’s Office data, 79 car burglaries were reported from January to April in Horizon West. The data included about 20 vehicles that were burglarized on April 12 at The Retreat at Windermere apartment complex.
According to Sheriff’s Office officials, vehicle burglaries are most commonly committed by teens looking for guns.
More than 700 guns were reported stolen in car burglaries throughout Orange County in 2020 and 2021.
Lewis said if common criminals are given the opportunity, they’re going to take it, which is why stopping and taking a moment to slow down is so important.
“We get caught up in the things we have to do when we get home,” Lewis said. “Whether that be cooking, cleaning, helping the kids work on a project … and we leave our laptop in the front seat, we leave our iPad sitting on the floor, we leave something as simple as our gym bag with all of our workout clothes sitting on the backseat of the car, or even a shopping bag during the holiday season.”
Lewis suggested putting reminders on smart devices to remove valuables, lock doors and take other precautions to assure the home is safe and secure.
“Believe it or not, it’s the simple stuff,” Lewis said. “It’s also about being a good neighbor and keeping your head on a swivel.”
Another resource in the community is the Citizens on Patrol program.
The non-confrontational neighborhood patrol program comprises private citizens who have passed a screening process and completed the volunteer academy given by the Sheriff’s Office.
The program provides citizens with an active means to make a difference in the community; increased cooperation between the citizens and the Sheriff’s Office; assistance to the Sheriff’s Office through additional observation and reporting; increased public presence in the neighborhood to deter crime; increased quality of life and safer environment for all neighborhood residents; and a way to make a difference in the neighborhood.
“Overall, I believe Horizon West is an incredibly safe family community,” Terry said. “But while our community has grown substantially in population, our Sheriff’s Office presence has remained the same. Our HOAs are currently paying for off-duty sheriff presence when our tax dollars should be sufficient. I appreciated Captain Ela’s candor, and I believe they have a plan to increase services in the future.”