City officials fear that a shortfall in staff and low morale of the Melbourne Police Department may put officers in danger as occurrences of public disobedience and hostile crowds are on the rise.
According to Florida Today, the Melbourne Police Department staffs 169 sworn officers and currently there are 14 vacant positions. Of the positions filled, 13 officers have been sidelined from road patrol for injury-related reason. City Manager Mike McNees hopes to accelerate the hiring process to fill the vacant sworn-officer posts as soon as possible.
Over the last two weeks, there have been two incidents of violence towards officers. The most recent occurring Saturday morning with a police lieutenant suffering hand, elbow and knee injuring while arresting a suspect. Companions of 22-year-old Phoenix Lowe shouted threats at the officer during the arrest. Cmdr. Vince Pryce says a crowd gathered and began striking and pulling at the officer, who took out his Taser and told “the aggressive advancing crowd” to get back. Just the week before, an officer was surrounded by several people when he tried to control a 21-year-old woman who had elbowed him in the jaw.
The outnumbered officers had no choice in both instances but to draw their stun guns and order the crowds to back away.
“What I can assure you is, there is nothing happening in the city of Melbourne right now that is more important than this conversation we’re having right now,” McNees told City Council members Tuesday night. “We need to send a public message that we’re going to back up and support our police officers and that that kind of nonsense is not going to be tolerated.”
“I’ve had a couple officers come to me, and I know morale is getting very low. These guys and women are exhausted. They are working overtime,” Councilwoman Debbie Thomas said.
“Things are getting out of control downtown. Now I’m hearing through the grapevine from officers that they’re being worked to death in overtime, and they’re not getting enough support downtown for these special events and for Friday night and Saturday night,” Councilman Mike Nowlin said.
“I know there’s a lot of discussion amongst the officers, and I back them 100 percent. They can only do so much,” Vice Mayor Betty Moore said. “There’s only so many hours in a day. And we need more police officers on the street.”
In addition to injury-related absences, numerous retirements have played a key role in the police department’s current vacancies.
The Florida Times reported McNees announced that police will prioritize “quality of life” calls so officers focus on criminal activity and public safety threats. To clarify, McNees said police will not respond to calls from residents reporting “a homeless-looking man sitting on a curb somewhere” or somebody legally panhandling.