Bedford police chief stresses crime prevention
by KATHY REMILLARD
BEDFORD - Despite high-profile crimes, the town of Bedford says it is continuing to make crime prevention a top priority, and the police department's Community Policing Program is at the heart of it.
Chief John Bryfonski, who formalized the program about a year ago, said that while his department has to be good at solving crimes, it should also be able to thwart them whenever possible.
"We should be focused on preventing crime," Bryfonski said, "and to do that, we have to engage the community in the process."
The Community Policing Program is based on meeting the needs of residents in four groups, said Bryfonski - the elderly, children, businesses and neighborhood groups, with a crime prevention piece for each one.
"It focuses on four groups that should really touch on every citizen in Bedford," he said.
Town Manager Jessie Levine said the program provides an important connection between residents and the department.
"In addition to crime prevention, I like the idea that our residents and businesses will get to know the men and women who work for our police department," she said. "I think it helps a community feel smaller when we can interact on a more personal level."
For seniors, the Are You OK? program is one of the ways the elderly can have regular contact with the department. A computer-generated call is made to a registered residence, and if the phone is not answered, police pay a visit to the home.
"This gives a sense of security not only to the participants, but also to their families," Bryfonski said.
Bryfonski said the department also provides seminars on issues that may be important to Bedford's seniors, including scams that target the elderly.
"We've done a lot of talks with seniors, they're really well-received and our officers love doing it," Bryfonski said.
Children and youth can expect to see Bedford Police officers in their school communities as well.
From reading stories to elementary students about strangers to joining older students at after-school sports programs, Bryfonski stressed the importance of kids having positive contact with his staff.
"It allows them to interact on a different level," he said, adding that the casual atmosphere lends itself to more openness and engagement on the part of the students, and allows officers to be seen as role models.
Police also work with businesses on issues such as shoplifting and robbery, as well as parking lot safety.
An area that is seeing growth in terms of community policing is the Neighborhood Watch program, Bryfonski said.
"The neighborhood watches have really taken off," he said. "It's been wonderful to see."
Neighbors can meet with officers to get tips on safeguarding themselves and their properties.
"We want them to 'harden their targets,' " Bryfonski said, by implementing safety measures such as deadbolts, motion sensor lights and securing window air conditioners.
"A vast amount of the housing stock in Bedford is secluded," Bryfonski said, with many houses set back far from the road.
"People don't always think of ways burglars can get into their houses," he said.
With many residents working during the day, Bryfonski said most break-ins occur between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., and residents should report anything that appears suspicious to the department immediately.
Many people don't make a call when they see something suspicious because they don't want to bother the department, Bryfonski said.
"But that is precisely what folks need to call us about," he said.
Bryfonski said the department saw a slight spike in calls regarding suspicious activity after a home invasion on Proclamation Court in November that left an anesthesiologist and his wife seriously injured, but when the department rolled out its "See something, say something" campaign in early 2012, those calls tripled.
"That's exactly what we want to see," he said.
Levine said she appreciates the enthusiasm with which the patrol officers have embraced the neighborhood watch program and their eagerness to develop and embrace it.
Bryfonski has also introduced a Meet the Chief program, which will be held the second Tuesday of each month, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Bedford Safety Complex.
"I want folks to feel like they can contact any one of us any time," he said. "It's what we're here for - our first duty is to be public servants."
A year after Trayvon Martin's death, Sanford, Florida tries to heal
by Mike Schneider and Kyle Hightower
SANFORD, Fla. - One year after the shooting of Trayvon Martin thrust this small central Florida city into the national spotlight, life in Sanford is returning to its regular rhythm.
After the death of the black 17-year-old at the hands of a neighborhood watch leader, civil rights leaders warned that Sanford risked its reputation as an upscale Mayberry and could become a 21st century version of civil rights flashpoints like Selma, Ala.
It seems Mayberry won out - at least for now. Downtown is abuzz with the activity of 1st Street shops and restaurants, not the sounds of marching protesters.
Literature lovers peruse Maya Books & Music. Craft beers are poured at The Imperial, a bar that doubles as a furniture store. At Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe, patrons feast on sauerbraten and listen to the house polka band.
But beneath the usual pace of life lurks the memory of what happened a year ago Tuesday in a nearby gated community.
Civil rights leaders said that if Martin had been white, the neighborhood watch leader, George Zimmerman, would have been arrested the night of the shooting. Zimmerman's father is white, and his mother is Hispanic.
In the weeks after the shooting, thousands of people marched through Sanford, demanding Zimmerman's arrest. T-shirts and posters of Martin sold rapidly on Sanford streets. The police chief lost his job.
The protests stopped after Jacksonville prosecutor Angela Corey took over the investigation and filed second-degree murder charges against Zimmerman a month and a half after Martin's shooting. Zimmerman, whose trial is set for June, has pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense.
At the height of the protests last March, national civil rights leaders such as the Rev. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the NAACP's Ben Jealous had vowed to turn Martin's shooting into a movement addressing equal justice under the law, as well as "stand your ground" laws that allow people to use deadly force if their lives are in danger. While those issues have retreated somewhat in the national discussion, they haven't in Sanford, where race relations and concerns about traditionally underrepresented communities have moved to the forefront.
"It's on our minds all the time," said City Manager Norton Bonaparte, who is black.
Since the arrest, Sanford leaders have taken steps they hope ease racial tensions in the city of 53,000 residents, more than a quarter of whom are African-American. Officials have held a series of community meetings in the predominantly black neighborhood of Goldsboro, established a community relations office, and appointed a human relations commission and a panel to review police-community relations. And they've studied how other communities, such as Rochester, N.Y., have overcome periods of tense race relations.
"Out of tragedy comes opportunity," said Mayor Jeff Triplett, who is white. "There was a scab over the wound of race relations, and this event opened it up."
Residents of Sanford's historically black neighborhoods say that for the most part, they are encouraged by the dialogue that has emerged with city officials. Shantree Hall said she welcomes the scrutiny Martin's shooting death has brought to Sanford.
"It's not just local eyes that are looking," Hall said. "It's the international eyes that are looking too. Sometimes you can fall weak and can't stand upon your own feet to fight a battle, but people look at that battle and fight it for you. And that's what happened in Sanford."
Natalie Jackson, a Sanford native who also is an attorney for Martin's parents, said the city is slowly reaching a point of reconciliation.
"There's something good that's coming out of this, and that's going to be the understanding," she said. "I think Sanford will be a better community for it."
But officials are aware that protests and racial tension could return during Zimmerman's June trial or April self-defense hearing. It's then that a judge will decide whether his defense argument is sufficient to allow for the case to be dismissed. Weighing on local leaders' minds are the 1992 Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of three police officers in the beating of Rodney King.
"History has shown it can happen if people feel justice isn't served," Bonaparte said.
"The community itself is standing fast, waiting to see what happens," Seminole County NAACP President Turner Clayton said this month at a gathering to commemorate what would have been Martin's 18th birthday. "Right now there is a lot of calm throughout the city. ... They're just laidback, waiting to see what goes on. So we'll see."
And while the fervor over the Martin shooting may have calmed for now, Sanford residents point out other problems, such as a recent rash of shootings between rival gangs.
"Unfortunately, there's a lot that's still going on with violence in our community, with violence against other people," resident Marc Booker said. "There's a lot of people trying to pull together and understand that there needs to be unity."