BELLEAIR - The future policing of Belleair was the main topic again at Tuesday night's town commission meeting. For months the town has grappled with the question of whether to keep its own police force, and if so, hire a new chief for the department, or instead, contract the town's policing out to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
Most in attendance had the police matter on their minds.
Commentary from citizens included a suggestion that the commission immediately send each resident a letter that lists who and where to call for various police requests and emergencies.
Another said she counted the town having its own force as a big plus when she moved here and that she hoped the commission would do thorough research before making any decisions either way.
Offering police officers now on the job incentives to stay put until the matter is decided upon was brought up as an important issue.
After some debate about who should head up a board to look into the matter, it was agreed to form a citizen's advisory board to conduct a study to help inform residents, with no elected officials involved.
The matter will be put to the citizen's vote this fall. Later in the meeting the commission adopted the proposed resolution to establish the referendum date (November 7) and language for the question of law enforcement services on the ballot.
The commission heard from Largo Police Chief, Lester Aradi, when he took the podium. Aradi asked that his comments not be misconstrued to mean he thinks the matter should not be taken to referendum. Referring to a memo he sent to Largo Town Manager Steve Stanton, he told the Belleair commissioners that as time has progressed the scope of the arrangement between Belleair and his department has changed.
Aradi explained that Largo is unable to hire more personnel to satisfy Belleair's staffing needs for police posts. He said, "I'm not in position to fill positions that Belleair loses to attrition."
Several of Belleair's police officers are applying for positions elsewhere. Largo's Police Department has been assisting with policing Belleair on an interim basis for $15,000 a month with communications and record-keeping being manned by the sheriff's office.
Aradi introduced Sheriff Jim Coats, whom Aradi said was better equipped to handle Belleair's policing needs should the town opt out of retaining their own police force.
Aradi said, "The sheriff is in a better position to assume the responsibility. With that being said, we've enjoyed our partnership here."
Coats said he had the manpower. Coats said his office would be adding 111 positions and a number would be for officers and detectives.
In fact, Coats added that his department has received a couple of applications from job-hunting Belleair officers. "We stand ready to assist in any way we can."
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