ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The St. Augustine Police Department will hire five officers to ensure the safety of families and visitors.
There is not a shortage of officers, but four officers who typically patrol the downtown area on bicycles will be temporarily moved to patrol cars until the vacant positions are filled, according to the Police Department.
"We've done some studies of our calls for service out of the city, and the chief and his management team have decided to move some bicycle guys around to supplement the patrol folks," said Officer Mark Samson.
Samson told News4Jax on Friday that employees come and go just like at any other agency, and right now they have five fewer employees than normal.
He said it doesn't mean people will be any less safe downtown, and officers will still be present. Samson encourages people to keep walking around and enjoying the city, saying safety is as high of a priority as it ever has been.
"I think, all in all, most people won't even see the difference of daily activities of the Police Department," Samson said.
The Police Department being down five officers was brought up at Monday's City Commission meeting when a resident expressed concern over not recently seeing the officers on bicycles. But the Police Department said it's not a shortage, more like a temporary resource shift.
The agency typically has 53 officers, but it had 48 officers as of Friday.
Mayor Nancy Shaver said she would never let people's safety be put at risk whether they live in the city or visit.
"Because we are small, we have a lot of visitors we have inter-local agreements St. Augustine Beach police, as well as the county police. So if there's a major incident, we're all in it together," Shaver said. "It's a great place."
A Flagler College student and a new mother who lives in St. Augustine both told News4Jax that they typically feel safe in the city, but they both had different opinions on the importance of officers on bicycles in the downtown area.
"A lot of the bikers around here get hurt, even pedestrians. So I think it's safer for the police officers themselves to be in a car rather than on a bike," said Cecelia Ross, a student at Flagler College.
McKenzie Spak, the mother of 2-year-old Ryleigh, said, " I guess if you're off a bicycle, there's parts of downtown it seems like it would be harder to get to. There's a lot of streets you could only walk down instead of drive down. So I assume it could have an impact, but I haven't seen it yet at this point."
The Police Department said it's currently taking applications, and once someone is hired, it takes about three to four months for them to complete training and start work. Overtime shifts are also available for those officers who want to continue patrols on their bike.
Police said there were three robberies in recent weeks in the downtown area, all of which happened in parking lots, but the investigations won't be affected by the patrol changes.
Investigators have collected DNA evidence from each incident and they're waiting for results from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to see whether one person could be responsible for all three robberies.
The Police Department said it's keeping a close eye on the areas and will continue to do so with the patrol changes.