Sarasota's issue with aggressive transient and vagrant populations in its downtown core has prompted a strong reaction from the city's mayor.
"I don't feel comfortable downtown anymore," Mayor Suzanne Atwell said at the City Commission meeting Monday night.
The remarks were part of Atwell's commentary on the conditions of safety and security downtown stemming from an aggressive transient and vagrant population that is making the sidewalks of Selby Library is home and place of business.
Atwell, a clinical psychologist who has worked with the homeless, points out that the folks downtown near the library and Five Points Park are in a different category, aggressively soliciting passers-by, or as others have witnessed, fighting other vagrants or threatening strangers.
"I have gone there, and as a woman — I've heard all the stories — it's a personal space issue," Atwell said. "We feel threatened."
"This has reached a new level," Atwell continued. "It is not about the homeless issue ... it's an in-your-face thing."
Sarasota Police Department is responding by reassigning an officer starting Wednesday, to be a transient coordinator, said Capt. Wade McVay. The temporary assignment will be a day/night assignment to address homeless issues, work with the Salvation Army and Resurrection House, he said.
The police department will also adjust security cameras to monitor activity around the library and also have another camera observe Five Points Park, McVay said.
The scene around Selby Library and Five Points Park is becoming common and disturbing to residents. Folks sleeping on the sidewalk with their lives in a bag nearby, smoking on a no-smoking library campus, drinking, and aggressively asking for money. The city will look at ways to strengthen its laws on obstructing the sidewalks to help officers have power to get people to leave.
"There are a number of ordinaces they're violating," Commissioner Terry Turner said.
The city attorney's office will work with the county attorney's office, since the library is county property, to review the city's trespassing policies and other laws, and what Sarasota Police can do for the county at the library, City Attorney Robert Fournier said.
Part of the security issue, is abandoned personal belongings, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown said.
Commissioner Shannon Snyder agrees, fearing the worst of what could be contained in an abandon bag that nobody bothered to report as suspicious.
"In the world that we live in today, the apathy towards Homeland Security and terrorism and suicide bombing — sorry, there shouldn't be anything on the side of the road," he said. "Load it up in a Gator, take it down there and put it in a garbage bag. I don't care how bad they whine about it."
McVay added that the police would like to see advice or ordinance language to clear up how those items can be handled.
"Right now we're taking it putting into our property section but right now there's only so much room for that," he said.
No specific ordinances are being prepared or re-examined at this time, Fournier said.
Fournier added he is also studying the City of Clearwater's recent ordinaces banning sitting and camping on sidewalks, but is not clear on the history of issues that city had to influence to put those laws into place.