A Recap of the Orange County District 2 Safe Neighborhood community meeting

By Orange County Commissioner Rod Love 

Last week, I had the honor and privilege of hosting a community meeting to bring the three Safe Neighborhoods in District 2, South Apopka, Pine Hills and Lee Road, together for a night of dialogue and exchange of ideas. I am proud to say that the meeting was a great success, with the leaders from each safe neighborhood learning ideas from their counterparts that they, as well as their audience, could take back with them to their neighborhoods. This event would not have been possible without Orange County staff, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), our three District 2 Safe Neighborhood Leaders, and Mr. John D. Byrnes, D.Hum. from the Center for Aggression Management. Also, I would also like to thank Attorney Greg Jackson, Esq. for moderating, Apopka City Commissioner Alexander Smith for attending and speaking, and to my predecessor, Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson, for setting a precedent for such a great program and groups to work with.

District 2 Orange County Commissioner Rod Love

For those who are unfamiliar with Orange County’s Safe Neighborhoods Program, the program: Is a tool for revitalizing the County’s older and transitioning communities; assists residents and community stakeholders in reclaiming communities before crime and deterioration create blighted conditions; and partners citizens with the OCSO, Orange County Government, the private sector, community stakeholders, and others to collaboratively preserve and stabilize neighborhoods. Last week’s meeting welcomed leaders and residents from District 2’s Safe Neighborhoods, encouraged discussion for keeping these neighborhoods safe, and collaborated with partners and stakeholders in the community.

Mr.Rogers Beckett, District 2 leader for the South Apopka Safe Neighborhood, gave the first presentation of the night. Mr. Beckett is from Apopka and has given a lot of his time to give back to the community. He has been a leader with the South Apopka Safe Neighborhood since 2009, focusing on projects that improve the lives of South Apopka’s residents and connects them with resources that will teach them how to support themselves in the long term. Mr. Beckett opened his presentation with some history about South Apopka. South Apopka’s history dates to the late 1800s and its issues with crime and deterioration began with the increase of unemployment, where South Apopka originally had a crate mill/agricultural economy. Following the creation of the Apopka Coalition to Improve Our Neighborhood in 1991, South Apopka’s safe neighborhood was established in 2000. South Apopka’s core issues include: Lack of public facilities and services; communication with Orange County and OCSO; neglect of private property; trash and debris in public space; speeding; property crimes; and drugs/gunfire. In response to these issues, South Apopka has developed three Action Plan Goals: Connect residents with public services; beautify property; and increase safety. Additionally, South Apopka has developed four strategic plan goals: Create safe neighborhoods; connect the community; enhance economic vitality; and educate and employ the community. Many accomplishments, including landscaping at Wheatley Elementary, street light improvements (MSBU), and coordination with groups to determine needs and provide resources, were mentioned by Mr. Beckett to show the success South Apopka has had in meeting its goals. Despite these many accomplishments, South Apopka still faces a few challenges: The need for a traffic light at the intersection of Cleveland Ave and 13thSt; the John H. Bridges Community Center has an electronic message board installation that has been held up; issues with bureaucratic buy-in for public art in infrastructure; citizen engagement; and the fact that safe neighborhoods are still not known in the community. To conclude his presentation, Mr. Beckett shared some current projects that South Apopka has underway: National Night Out; Yard of the Month; Bridges Community Center bus stop improvements (parklet); advocating for traffic and street improvements; and quarterly community meetings and newsletters.

Following South Apopka’s presentation, the floor opened for Ms. Lori Erlacher to share an update from the Lee Road Safe Neighborhood. Ms. Erlacher is an Orlando native and has resided in the Lee Road area for 16 years. During her four year tenure as the Lee Road Safe Neighborhood Vice President, she has implemented several organizational and communication improvements to ensure the group’s long-term health. Ms. Erlacher has served as a tireless advocate for her neighborhood; she has worked with County staff to address areas of commercial blight, advocated for a solar-powered trashcan at a high-volume bus stop, pushed for updated traffic markings throughout the community, and provided resources to neighbors during hurricanes and times of financial crisis. The Lee Road community dates back to the 1950s, where Lee Road was eventually widened from two to six lanes. Lee Road eventually began to experience crime and deterioration, which led to the establishment of the Lee Road Safe Neighborhood in 2000 with the hope of balancing new commercial development with neighborhood stability. According to Ms. Erlacher, then Commissioner Bryan Nelson had Lee Road brainstorm and list the top seven commercial blight issues, to which she was proud to announce that five of the seven have been addressed. Lee Road’s core issues include: Traffic/speeding; beautification; lack of persistent code enforcement; crime prevention; extended stay motels and run-down apartments; neglect of private property; property crime; and drugs, prostitution, and loitering. In response to these issues, Lee Road has implemented the following Action Plan Goals: Traffic calming; sidewalk gaps; tree and landscaping; reduction of trash; parks and green space; street lighting; entranceway signage; code violations; and removing drugs, drug dealers, prostitution, panhandling and loitering. Some of the accomplishments that have resulted from these goals include bike safety events, the decrease of commercial blight, outreach to neighboring motels, and a Half Day Crime Prevention workshop. According to Ms. Erlacher, the challenges currently facing Lee Road are: Citizen engagement; volunteer burnout; bureaucratic roadblocks; lack of County-owned common space; and extended stay motels, apartment complexes, and vacant businesses causing blight. The bureaucratic roadblocks include Public Works and Right of Way restrictions, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and Orange County Traffic Engineering (OCTE); and Lynx. Some current ongoing projects that Lee Road is working are: Two Little Free Libraries; Neighborhood cleanups and LYNX trashcans; a pet station; no parking signs for Satel Drive; anti-graffiti coating for utility poles; a community cleanup; Movie Night; Bi-monthly community meetings; and quarterly newsletters.

Mr. Kenneth Dwyer with the Pine Hills Safe Neighborhood Partnership was the final speaker for the presentation. Mr. Dwyer moved to Pine Hills in 1999 and became involved in the community almost immediately. He became the founding member of the Pine Hills Safe Neighborhood Alliance in 2000 and joined the Pine Hills Community Council that same year. He started his three terms as the President of the Pine Hills Community Council in 2005. Between the 1950s-1980s, Pine Hills was known as a middle class suburb. However, the Pine Hills area began to decline between the 1980s and 1990s due to two factors: Crime and the economy. Like its counterparts, the Pine Hills Safe Neighborhood Partnership was established in 2000. Today, Pine Hills is well-known for its cultural diversity and vision for revitalization. Pine Hills’s core issues include: Perception of crime; lack of persistent code enforcement; property crimes; rundown/vacant homes and yards; the need for community policing; speeding/street parking; and drugs and gun fire. In response, Pine Hills has established the following Action Plan Goals: Traffic calming; jaywalking; school zone safety; trees and landscaping; trash; parks and public space; streetlights; community identification for signage; and support for business growth and development. Pine Hills has experienced several accomplishments, most notably the establishments of its support of community groups and initiatives. This includes: The Pine Hills Task Force; Pine Hills Road Bike/Pedestrian Plan; Lynx Bus Transit Center; Pine Hills Seniors community garden; landscaping/signs for neighborhoods; and development planning. The challenges facing Pine Hills are: The difficulty to support business development within the Safe Neighborhood structure; difficulty finding a Safe Neighborhood mandate among all Pine Hills groups; citizen engagement; volunteer burnout; communication and outreach; and apartment management and residents. Current projects that Pine Hills has underway includes: Five St.ART Something traffic box art projects; Challenge Day ay Evan’s High School; replacing gateway signs; paving the median on Hastings Street; new sidewalks/speed humps/streetlights on Rogers Babson Road; quarterly community meetings; and social media outreach.

Those in attendance also heard from Mr. John Byrnes, D.Hum. founder of the Center for Aggression Management 24 years ago (headquartered in Winter Park). Mr. Byrnes is a successful businessman, author and lecturer who became interested in the subject of aggression management after concluding that there were no comprehensive training programs dedicated to preventing aggression in the workplace. He authored the NaBITA Threat Assessment Tool, now being utilized by Behavior Intervention Teams on over 177 college and university campuses to assess the risk of violence. Mr. Byrnes developed the Critical Aggression Prevention System (CAPS), which now allows employers to achieve the highest form of Evidence-based Best Practices. To put this system into context, Mr. Byrnes explained the concept of the “Moment of Commitment.” The “Moment of Commitment” is one’s decision to utilize a weapon in a situation. In most cases, there is not enough response time for help in these situations. This is where CAPS comes in, where it attempts to get in front of this very decision and thus prevent the “Moment of Commitment.” Part of this system relies on the use of human based indicators or behaviors for tracking aggressive behavior. For more information, residents can go to www.agressionmanagement.com.

Once again, I would like to thank everyone who had attended and participated in making this meeting happen. Those who would like to share or view a recording of the meeting may do so on my District 2 Facebook Page. Residents who are looking to establish a Safe Neighborhood in the future should keep in mind that, as suggested by the efforts in District 2’s Safe Neighborhoods: All Safe Neighborhoods are selected and approved by the Orange County Board of County Commissioners; each Safe Neighborhood completes all organizational process and develops a strategic neighborhood plan (action plan); and each Safe Neighborhood is given all allocation of funds to use for crime prevention, public safety, and beautification projects.

Given the success and dialogue that came out of this event, I encourage you to attend our upcoming Town Hall Forum on “Engaging Men, Advancing Women”, hosted by myself and City of Apopka Commissioner Alexander Smith. This Town Hall Forum will focus on the consequences for the behavior of children, including increased chances for aggression and incarceration, that can occur if they grow up without active mothers and fathers. For more information, please see our flyer (below).

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