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Here's how Fort Pierce hopes its new budget may reduce crime in the city

'We are focused on safety and security, and our police department has an over $20 million budget for the very first time,' Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson says
Posted at 5:17 PM, Jul 10, 2024

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Solutions could be on the way to Fort Pierce as the city rolls out a plan to tack on about a million dollars to its police department budget.

“We are focused on safety and security, and our police department has an over $20 million budget for the very first time," said Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson.

Johnson said that's in comparison to $13 million when he took office eight years ago. According to city documents, the city granted police a budget of $19.1 million last year, $17.3 million of which went specifically to personnel.

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Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson says they are still finalizing the budget for the upcoming 2024-2025 fiscal year.

He said himself and city commissioners are still finalizing the budget for the upcoming 2024-2025 fiscal year, so the change isn't set in stone yet.

In an email response to WPTV, city spokesperson Kaitlyn Ballard said the additional funding will assist in areas such as enhanced community policing, technology upgrades, training and development, recruitment and retention, and public safety programs.

"This significant investment reflects the City’s commitment to prioritizing the Fort Pierce Police Department and ensuring the safety and well-being of our community," said Ballard in a statement.

The city of Fort Pierce continually strives to enhance public safety, build trust, and create a safer environment for all residents of Fort Pierce.

The budget proposal comes after WPTV for months has elevated community concerns about violent crime and taken those concerns to elected leaders, who told us they need more money to make the city safer.

Turning back the clock to May, you'll find the conversation began after our reporting on multiple shootings in the northwest part of the city.

We elevated residents' concerns and gave voice to family members

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St. Lucie County Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky, whose district is Fort Pierce, explains how violence has worsened over the years.

"Something is wrong in this neighborhood," said resident, Margaret Butts.

"It creates a hurt that is unimaginable," said Tonia Thompson, whose father was killed May 18th.

WPTV took those concerns to elected officials, and found solutions, connecting Mayor Linda Hudson to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a group committed to mitigating gun violence across the State.

WPTV also uncoveredthe city's once successful violence intervention program, that launched in 2014, dissipated soon after due to a lack of funding.

“$200,000 doesn’t come easy," said St. Lucie County Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky.

WPTV also sought answers from the cityregarding police wages, staffing and funding.

Now, after securing more money for police, city and county officials focus on bringing back that violence intervention program, and have honed in on three main options:

  1. Bringing in the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition we suggested, which we found dropped Orlando crime rates by 37%.
  2. Bringing back the St Lucie County Roundtable program put in place in 2014, which we found dropped the city's violent crime rates by 42%.
  3. Bringing in another organization called the Circle of Brotherhood from Miami.
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Mayor Linda Hudson says the city manager is preparing the budget and strategies.

"Have we gotten anywhere with this?" WPTV's Kate Hussey asked Mayor Linda Hudson.

"Yes, our city manager right now is preparing our budget and I got a little snapshot of that with funding for the kinds of strategies that we talked about," replied Hudson.

Dzadovsky also said he's working to secure funding at the county level, and is working with city officials to determine which option would best reduce crime, as residents said it's high time for change.

"I’m tired of getting up all times of the night, 12, 1 o'clock in the morning, gunshots going off," one man said during public comment at a June 4 commission meeting.