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Bradenton Police Department is Committed to Serving the Community


BRADENTON -- The City of Bradenton's Police Department is a force to be reckoned with. They consistently log incredibly impressive response times, have a crack detective unit, and are known for being a positive presence in the community.

The BPD SWAT's "Bearcat" is an awesome sight to behold

Still, many citizens remain unaware just how much of the city's day to day functions are impacted by the BPD. Recently, I spent an afternoon with the department to explore just what an important role they play in our community.

The city police department runs three shifts; 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m; 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.; and 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Officers work ten-hour shifts, four days on, three off. Captain Russ Tibbitts, District 2 Commander, explained that the department responds to an unthinkably wide array of calls.    

"There's the more obvious areas, such as criminal activity," said Tibbitts, "but we respond to calls for all sorts of things. From customer issues with businesses to exotic wildlife complaints," he says with a laugh. "I have no idea why, but we seem to be the first department called when an alligator or a snake shows up someplace. We try and get Wildlife Control on those ones as soon as possible," he says with a smile.

Tibbitts explained that the department is also responsible for providing school zone crossing guards when those employees call in, or fail to show up.

"That puts a real strain on manpower, but yes, we're the back up in that situation and we've got to put an officer there, one that would otherwise be patrolling," he explained.

Manpower is a touchy word these days. Like nearly every city in the state, Bradenton faces declining revenues and budget cuts, so the BPD operates in constant fear that resources will be further reduced.

"Right now, there are nine officers out there on this shift," said Tibbitts. "If there were no city police, the sheriff's department might have the resources to provide two for that same area. I know that it's difficult for people to understand the big numbers associated with a budget such as ours, where there is no tangible product, just primarily officers and squad cars, but reducing those resources can really affect our ability to respond to calls as effectively as we do."

Captain Russ Tibbitts, Bradenton Police Department

Captain Tibbitts said that the department is always in the fortunate position of having many more applicants than slots for new officers, but that the current economy has created a swell of new candidates. When I asked him the most necessary attribute of a prospective recruit, he is quick with an answer.

"Integrity. If I know that something is true, simply because a trusted officer has told me so, that confidence goes a long way with me. I think that's something that's waning a bit in our society and it's a crucial quality for a police officer."

Tibbitts is also quick to note that an officer's temperament is part of a rare skill set.

"You've got to be an above average person in a lot of categories, just to start with," Tibbitts said. "If someone lacks patience and is quick to show their temper or let someone under their skin, they are really going to be challenged in this job."

For Tibbitts, it's remembering the commitment to service that best grounds an officer.

"I always remind myself that I work for other people," he said. "If I were working for myself, I'd have my own business, but I've got to be focused on what's best for this city and its people, not Russ Tibbitts. I am happy to say that we attract very good applicants, as do the highway patrol and the sheriff's department and I think that's reflected in the people that we have here and in all those units."

The policing roles of each department are clearly defined, but still allow for limited overlap. County task forces routinely follow investigations into city jurisdictions, but Tibbits says that the departments enjoy strong working relationships.

Unlike many units, the BPD has no restrictions on where officers can live in order to be employed by the department. However, to be eligible to take a patrol car home, they must live within Manatee County, with a priority of available cars given to those who live within the city. An assigned patrol car is an important benefit to many officers, who might otherwise need a second family car.

If a commuting officer witnesses a crime outside of the city limits, jurisdiction agreements give them the right to act as a law enforcement officer in all capacities until local law enforcement arrives on the scene, at which time they immediately relinquish authority and act as a witness.

I asked Captain Tibbitts what was the most menacing situation the department faced and he was quick to point out a myriad of ways that drug related crimes filter down throughout the community.

"I think everyone knows that with illegal drugs comes crime," said Tibbitts, "but I don't think the average person realizes just how far that reaches. If you've been the victim of a home invasion, car theft, or even someone just breaking into your car, chances are very good that the crime was perpetrated to support someone's drug habit. We see the cycle, where the person develops a drug problem, and of course they eventually lose their job and ultimately they are stealing whatever they can to support their habit, crimes that they otherwise would not commit."

Captain Tibbitts also lamented the unfortunate crime and vandalism associated with the city's homeless population. He was quick to note the difference between the majority of non-violent homeless citizens and a smaller minority that occupied a disproportionate amount of the department's resources.

"We have homeless citizens who are honest and decent people, who've had a bad run of luck," said Tibbitts. "They keep to themselves and are no trouble to anyone, but there's also a vagrant population that does not respect the other members of our community and whether its vandalism or other destruction of property, or just harassment, there ends up being a lot of manpower drained by such actions and its regrettable."

I brought my six-year-old son along for the tour and the officers were incredibly hospitable, each taking the time to go out of their way and indulge a young boy's wide-eyed amazement. We met a detective squad that closed the book on every homicide in the city last year, highly trained SWAT team members, and patrol officers who were quick with a smile and a lollipop as they prepared to come on shift.

Their attentive smiles and kind words conveyed that passion for service and love of community that Tibbitts had extolled. It was an educational day for both me and my son and I left the station glad that those fine men and women were watching over our community, certain that they were worth every cent of that big number. For even on a strained budget, there are certain services in which cuts are bound to be pound foolish, even if they seem penny wise.


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