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Sarasota Police Department launches a new community relations office

Police officer with back to camera, opening car door
Sarasota Police Department
Community Relations Unit officers visit Sarasota County Schools to welcome students on campus on a recent morning.

It's part of the department's efforts to decentralize and strengthen trust within the community.

The Sarasota Police Department is working to strengthen community relationships with the launch of a Community Relations Unit office in north Sarasota.

The new unit, dedicated to community outreach, was created less than two months ago, according to CRU officer Sgt. Patrick Comac. The unit’s new home is located in the heart of Newtown at 1782 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Way.

“I think the direction of the police department and the chief in general is to decentralize the police department,” said Comac. “So, what we’re trying to do is get officers embedded within the community and allow community members to feel more comfortable with our presence there.”

Comac says the new unit is just the beginning of the department’s efforts to decentralize and strengthen trust within the community.

Since its creation, the Community Relations Unit has been focusing on building relationships with younger community members. This has included visiting schools and sitting with students at lunch, assisting in afterschool programs where they help kids with reading and homework, and playing sports with them after school. They have also been attending several local events to make their presence known in the community.

Police officer leaning against a fence with children behind him and in front
Sarasota Police Department
Sgt. Patrick Comac welcomes students as they arrive for school.

“You know, sometimes when we end up meeting people or meeting kids, it’s in an emergency setting, and this is a way for it to not feel like that,” said Comac. “And ultimately, the goal is to have community members feel more comfortable with approaching us and speaking to us … engaging with us in positive ways.”

Originating from the department’s Community Action Team, the CRU was the result of a decision to split the team in half so that officers and supervisors could work more efficiently.

Comac -- who was previously part of the Community Action Team -- said that before the split, the action team was essentially a jack of all trades within the department, assisting with arrests, criminal investigations and strategic operations one day, and then turning around and playing basketball with local kids or passing out bike helmets the next.

Now with the CRU, the department can still emphasize community outreach while allowing the CAT to focus on assisting other units and conducting special operations based on current crime trends.

The CRU office launch is set to take place from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Oct. 14. Festivities will include a DJ, food, ice cream, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and even a friendly basketball game hosted by Second Chance Last Opportunity.

Click here for more information on the SPD or the CRU.

Sarah Owens is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. Connect with her at slowens@cncfl.org.

Building exterior with BayFirst on the front and a police cruiser parked to the left
Sarah Owens
Community News Collaborative
The Community Relations Unit Office is located in the building that previously served as the department’s north substation.

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