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Sheriff’s Office searches for new outreach center

Beach Baptist Church appears to be next landing place

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Jun 8, 2021

The Lee County Sheriff's Office outreach center on Estero Boulevard is no longer operational. The department would like to have a presence at Times Square and is also close to finalizing a contract for an outreach center at Beach Baptist Church. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office is looking for a new home for their outreach center now that preparations are being made by TPI for the demolition work which will take down the building previously utilized for the outreach center at Helmerich Plaza for the Margaritaville project.

The outreach center, which is now closed, opened last fall off Estero Boulevard with the understanding that it would be a temporary home.

The Sheriff’s Office is close to finalizing a contract with Beach Baptist Church in which the Sheriff’s Office would have access to the church property, including the coffee shop and breakfast room, according to Beach Baptist Church Pastor Shawn Critser. Critser said the Sheriff’s Office would have access to all of the grounds on the church property.

Critser said the contract could take effect July 1 or earlier. The Sheriff’s Office would be able to do administrative work, be on site for community events, maintain a presence on site and conduct outreach at the church. He said the Sheriff’s Office has has deputies at the church property before during grocery giveaways.

The pastor said talks with the Sheriff’s Office about a presence at the church go back to 2019 when Fort Myers Beach Public Library Director Leroy Hommerding was stabbed by a homeless man. “Residents of the island have asked for a mid-island police presence for years,” Critser said.

Providing funding to the Lee County Sheriff's Office for enhanced community policing has split the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

Another potential new home for an outreach center under consideration is the Ocean Jewel property near the former outreach center on Estero Boulevard, which would also be temporary.

As a long-term goal, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office would like to be in the Times Square area, Lee County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Alan Canfield told the town council on Monday.

Canfield said “we have had some reach-out from various groups we were dealing with.” Canfield said he has been in touch with Beach Baptist Church about holding outreach there though visibility at Times Square is ideal. “I don’t want to go too much longer without that visibility down there,” he said. “We feel it is imperative and important that we have that footprint at Times Square.”

Critser said the Lee County Sheriff’s Office will sometimes contract the church “because they are looking for somebody and because of our registration system (for the food pantry and other services) we know where they are and we are happy to assist them.”

Town of Fort Myers Beach Manager Roger Hernstadt said the sheriff’s office is looking to place a portable outreach center near the Ocean Jewel property, which would be available for a temporary basis due to plans by the Florida Department of Transportation to utilize the land to widen Estero Boulevard.

Town of Fort Myers Beach Councilmember Bill Veach said right-of-way property at the 7-Eleven could be a possible landing spot for a portable outreach center. “I appreciate the value of the outreach center. I hate to see you guys bouncing from one place to another,” he said.

“Foot traffic is 80% of what we experienced at our last outreach center,” Canfield said. “Visibility is paramount,” Canfield said.

Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros asked Canfield if Lynn Hall Memorial Park could be a possible site. Canfield said that wouldn’t be available for another year. Canfield said the department did consider Bowditch Point Park and Bay Oaks.

Mayor Ray Murphy suggested the department return back to the area between Lynn Hall Memorial Park and Times Square, where the department once had a presence.

In the meantime, the town council is showing a renewed interest in paying extra to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office to provide additional officers dedicated to the island. In the wake of a person firing shots on the beach this past Memorial Day, the town council is planning to discuss bringing on two deputies as part of “community policing.” The cost to the town has been estimated at approximately $110,000 per deputy.

The council will take up further discussion of the extra policing on Wednesday.