East Winter Garden to get a "pop up" police station this fall
Friday, August 6, 2021
Lt. April Durias will lead the Community Liaison Unit assigned to East Winter Garden's new pop-up police station.
This story has been updated to reflect new information that the "pop-up" building is not a police station but a community development center that will house community liaison officers.
The Winter Garden Police Department is opening up a station in the heart of East Winter Garden.
The station will be located on the northwest corner of Center and Tenth streets, according to Captain Scott Allen. The station is being housed in a prefab building that will be delivered and installed on the property — hence the "pop up" descriptor. Once it's in place, the city will lay down some asphalt for parking, put in some landscaping and voila! Instant police station. It's expected to be open and operational within the next 60 days.
The building is part of a massive 20-year revitalization project that the city is undertaking to rebuild East Winter Garden with new affordable housing and a Center Street commercial center with restaurants and other small businesses, like a bakery and laundromat.
“We’re just waiting on the windows,” said Winter Garden City Manager Mike Bollhoefer.
Bollhoefer backpedaled on describing the pop-up as a "police station." "It's bad terminology," he admitted. Reminded that he used that terminology himself during a recent community meeting, the city manager apologized for "talking off the top of your head. and saying the first words." The building is meant to be a community development center that will be a base of operations for the community-oriented officers who work to bridge the gap between police and residents.
It will be staffed by six members of the Community Liaison Unit, led by Lt. April Durias.
“This unit focuses on building relationships with the community,” explained Allen. “It’s more than the patrol level. You still have the patrols that respond to calls and stuff like that. But this unit goes to homeowners association and community meetings, and their main focus is on building partnerships with the community.”
At a recent community meeting at City Hall, some East Winter Garden residents welcomed news of the additional police presence. Murmurs of approval rippled through the room at Bollhoefer's announcement about the new station.
The station is certain to have some unruly neighbors. The intersection of Center and Tenth streets has long been a thorny issue in the neighborhood because it’s a magnet for large crowds, late-night parties and, on occasion, drugs and crime. The intersection is also the spot from which the city's entire neighborhood revitalization plan radiates out.
“We hope the presence will definitely reduce crime, and that’s an area that has crime that needs to be addressed,” said Allen. “But the whole idea is just to provide an extra police presence in the community, and the station is going there because the city owns that property.”
However, other residents, like Karen McNeil, 58, worry that additional police in the neighborhood just means additional police harassment, like what happened to her this past spring.
McNeil, a VoxPopuli advisory board member, was pulled over in the 20-year-old F150 truck she’d recently bought on East Maple Street, after passing a patrol car driving the opposite direction.
“The street is so narrow when you go by someone, you’re barely away from them,” said McNeil.
When she stopped at the stop sign at the end of the street, she noticed that the police car had turned around and rolled up behind her.
“I’m like, What have I done? He comes to my truck, and he says, Whose truck is this? I say It’s my truck. He took my ID and everything and he ran it.
“Then he says, I know you’re trying to figure out why I stopped you. I am not saying anything. He says, Well, I stopped you because you were a little bit on the other side of the road.” You’re a little bit on the other side of the road? On that road, there is no line, just the road. But I was like, Okay. Then he said, You’re fine to go.”
McNeil said she was more resigned than scared during her traffic stop. “I was just … used to it. I wasn’t surprised. I don’t mind the police being in our area, but we don’t want the harassment.”
Asked about McNeil’s stop, Allen said, “We try to be pretty open. All of our officers have body cameras on them, and I hope the officer would have deployed it. If she had an issue with the stop and how it happened, I would hope that she would come to the police department and speak to a supervisor and try to figure out what’s going on. But if something was not handled correctly, we would look into it and see what we could do to fix it.”
And once the windows arrive and the new station is open, for East Winter Garden residents, that kind of assistance will be closer than ever.