The Pensacola Police plan to saturate city neighborhoods with uniformed officers in an attempt to halt a recent spate of gun violence. The effort, explained Chief Chip Simmons during a July 20 press conference, will encompass the whole city, but would be concentrated on the area of East Strong Street and Desoto Street, where three drive-by shootings occurred within a span of a few days.
In one July 17 incident a 15-year-old boy was shot in the leg. No one was hurt in the other drive-bys.
“We cannot tolerate this activity in our city and we will use every last officer in a visible capacity to take action,” Simmons said. “Officers that are usually assigned to administrative tasks and plainclothes officers that are usually assigned to follow up activities, or officers that are normally assigned to training activities, will be in uniform.”
The chief said the number of officers on the street would likely fluctuate between 154 (every officer in the department) and 75 (every officer in the department). He evaded a reporter who asked what increase this would be over the status quo. Simmons also said security at Gallery Night, Blue Wahoos games and other events would not be affected.
The strategy was implemented in the wake of the drive-bys, and would evolve over the next two weeks. Simmons did not provide firm dates.
“As long as we can, we’re gonna keep this up,” he said.
Mayor Ashton Hayward was at the press conference, as well. Asked if more officers would be hired, the mayor did not answer the question.
“We would all like to see more officers,” he said. “We all want to feel safe when we’re down at Gallery Night or at a Blue Wahoos game, and I think the majority of citizens do feel safe … the last thing we want is people getting shot at, much less killed. We’re gonna patrol every neighborhood. Every neighborhood deserves the same amount of policing, and that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Lumon May, who is running for the District 3 seat on the Escambia County Commission, was also present at the meeting. He asked Simmons if the effort would encompass the west side of the city.
“There has been a history of violence in the Western Gate, off of Pace Boulevard and Cervantes, coming into our city, with a lot of establishments that seem to have a chronic problem,” May said. “Will that be a target … for the systemic problem that we see?”
The police chief assured May that officers would patrol every neighborhood in the city.
“Our intent is not to stop everyone and harass everyone,” Simmons said. “Our intent is to show a police presence. If you’re up to no good, you can expect to be stopped and potentially questioned by law enforcement. If you’re not up to no good, then just wave, and, you know, we’ll wave back.”
The strategy is not new in the area. It’s similar to the “Desks to Roads” tactic used by Sheriff David Morgan in 2011. During that time, the county saw a decline in crime.
HATCHING AN ORDINANCE
During a recent trip to Key West, Fla., Pensacola City Councilman Larry Johnson discovered the island had a large chicken population. When he went out for lunch, the birds roamed freely around his feet.
“In Key West, they have chickens everywhere,” Johnson told his fellow council members during the July 16 Committee of the Whole meeting.
Upon returning to Pensacola, the councilman—along with the rest of the board—took up the chicken issue, as it pertains to the urban farming movement. The Pensacola City Council ultimately approved a rewrite of the city’s ordinance dealing with keeping chickens within the municipality’s limits. The changes are a nod to backyard chicken enthusiasts, who have worked for several months with city staff on the rewrite effort.
“It’s much more restrictive, but it adds a caveat for urban farmers,” explained Councilwoman Sherri Myers, who was instrumental in the effort. “In a nut shell, it’s much tougher.”
Currently, city residents may keep an unspecified number of chickens on their property. However, a requirement that the birds be kept in an enclosure located 50 feet away from any structure—including the resident’s own dwelling—means a vast majority of residents can’t logistically enjoy the practice.
The rewritten ordinance limits the number of chickens a person may keep to eight. It also decreases the required distance from a structure to 30 feet, not counting a resident’s own house.
“I think this ordinance is very reasonable,” Myers told her fellow council members.
The city council has been discussing the backyard chicken issue for the past several months. Local urban farmers—hailing mainly from the East Hill neighborhood—worked with city code enforcement officials to rewrite the ordinance. The group studied other locale’s efforts to accommodate urban farming, a growing trend across the country.
Another change in the ordinance will allow backyard chickens to be free-roaming. While residents must have a coop for the animals, they can also roam freely around their enclosed yard. The rewritten ordinance will also disallow roosters, due to noise concerns.
Some other concerns were also raised during the council’s discussion. There was a suggestion from a member of the public that residents be required to get the approval of their surrounding neighbors before launching into their backyard chicken venture.
While Councilwoman Maren DeWeese said the council might want to revisit the issue of requiring a permit for such activity sometime in the future, no one on the board seemed too keen on requiring chicken keepers to gain their neighbor’s approval of the practice—Councilman Brian Spencer said such a requirement would lead to surrounding residents exercising “unreasonable control over their chicken-loving neighbor.”
Citizens that have spoken in support of keeping backyard chickens—some of whom had run-ins with code enforcement, which triggered the rewrite—had explained during previous council meetings that they enjoyed the fresh eggs provided by the animals, and also considered them as pets. The rewritten ordinance provides for such, but specifically forbids residents from slaughtering the birds for food.
“A person can’t raise a chicken, wring its neck and eat it like they did years ago when they raised chickens?” asked Councilman Ronald Townsend. “There are some folks who do that, you know?”
“I like chicken, myself,” said Steve Wineki, head of the city’s code enforcement, explaining that Councilwoman Myers had requested that aspect of the rewrite.
“I used to try to do it,” Townsend said, recounting his attempts to wring chicken necks. “But the chicken would get up and run.”
LOCO FOR LOGO
The city has a new brand. A brand new brand.
Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward announced the city’s new brand July 18 at the Saenger Theater downtown. The new brand represents a shift away from the “City of Five Flags” moniker and is meant to better convey the area’s assets when marketing the city to visitors and businesses.
“Everything that is good about Florida is better in Pensacola,” Hayward told the crowd at the Saenger. “This is not a tagline.”
The mayor stood behind a lectern on the theater stage, flanked by potted plants. Above him, in large letters, a message was projected onto a screen: “If you are not a brand, you are a commodity.”
That wasn’t the tagline either. The city’s new tagline is: “Pensacola—the upside of Florida.”
After his speech, Hayward spoke with members of the press about the new brand and how he felt it was better than the area’s current geographic identifier.
“I don’t like that word: the ‘panhandle,’” Hayward said. “You know, we are the ‘upside’ of Florida.”
During his presentation of the new brand, the mayor told those in attendance that he believed the rebranding effort was needed to usher the city into the future. He spoke about “broad synergy,” and how the city seemed to have “little to no image.” He said the outside world considers Pensacola “an afterthought” and that the new brand would better convey a “contemporary, forward thinking” environment.
“We want to position Pensacola to capture a larger share of the future,” Hayward said. “Think about that.”
When the city’s new logo was presented, the crowd inside the Saenger applauded. Outside on the sidewalk, the mood was less celebratory.
“We’re a little concerned about his rebranding,” said Jennie Spanos. “We’d like to see some real change.”
Spanos was among a group of people writing messages in chalk on the bricked walk in front of the Saenger. The group hailed mostly from the ranks of Occupy Pensacola—not the current encampment at
Pensacola City Hall, but rather the politically engaged contingent from the fall of 2011.
The chalked messages were aimed squarely at Hayward—they criticized him for focusing on business interests at the expense of other issues. As one Occupier put it, the rebranding is only an attempt “to bring in more opportunities for the upper crust of this city.”
“Basically, there’s a lot more problems in Pensacola that need to be dealt with,” said Landon Brooks. “Basically, the city is turning into a hub of crony capitalism.”
As the Occupiers milled in front of the theater, two police cars pulled to the side of Palafox Street.
“Is there someone else down here with you,” one of the police officers asked the group. “Someone complaining?”
The Occupiers shook their heads—“no one’s complaining.” The officer did a walk around. She stepped over messages: one calling for the eviction of “King Hayward” and another bashing the mayor’s goal of using the Port of Pensacola as a service hub for ships working in the Gulf of Mexico’s offshore oil fields.
Following Hayward’s speech, Bill Paul—one of the original organizers of Occupy Pensacola—stood in the Saenger’s lobby near a long table full of finger sandwiches and a three-dimensional streetscape model of Bayview Parkway featuring the new logo.
Paul, older than most of the other Occupiers and visibly irritated by some of his cohorts’ boisterous antics, said he understands the rebranding effort—he has a marketing background—but felt the city had more to deal with than its image. He wondered how the rebrand might benefit the area’s homeless, or better the circumstances of the working poor.
“For a city to grow it has to have balance—and I’m a 100 percent for this—but you can’t ignore the poverty that’s all around you,” Paul said, looking over the streetscape model.
Back on the stage, Mayor Hayward held court with the media. He looked into a wall of microphones and lenses as he talked up the city and its new brand.
“We’re a real city, folks,” he said. “We need people to take us seriously.”
The mayor said that the rebranding team looked to other cities for inspiration—“What is Boulder, Colo. doing? What is Austin, Texas doing?”—and that Pensacola should be Northwest Florida’s premier city—“We have the history.” He added that people were constantly asking him why the city was slow to capitalize on itself.
“They say, ‘why is this place not roaring?’ This place should be roaring,” Hayward told the press. “We have incredible assets, we just haven’t told the world about them.”
The rebrand effort was put together by the Zimmerman Agency, a Tallahassee marketing firm. The cost for the city is about $82,000. The plan is to place the new logo on signs throughout the city, as well as on everything from city vehicles to city stationary.
During his presentation, Hayward asked people to put their energy behind the new brand—“We have a golden opportunity, folks, to really put our foot on the accelerator.”—and he requested that citizens “be consistent with the brand, and be disciples of our brand.”
“Like Bonnie Raitt said—and Bonnie Raitt played right here in the Saenger Theater—let’s give’em something to talk about,” Hayward told them.