By: Mike Ferguson, Contributing Writer.
Haines City - Since its rejuvenation in March, our Haines City Police Department’s Community Oriented Policing Section (COPS) unit has been working to reach the community on a more personal level. Now, it is expanding. With City Commission approval of the 2019-20 fiscal budget came funding for additional officers to keep up with the city’s population growth. As for the COPS unit, it will go from two sworn officers to four this fiscal year. Overseen by Sgt. Christopher Colon, the unit has included Officer Carlos Dominguez, Officer Kalen Holmes and now, Officer Joel Morales.
Through partnerships with local businesses, nonprofit organizations, community leaders and other city departments, the unit strives to make a difference in the immediate area and to change the perception that some have of law enforcement. With double the number of officers, the COPS unit believes it can make an even bigger impact.
The decision came prior to the start of the fiscal year but became a must after COPS teamed with the Parks & Recreation Department to put together a Halloween Party for the city’s youth with less than a week to plan. More than 200 local children came out to enjoy food, drinks, entertainment, music, games and much more. The effort drew praise from many, including Chief Jim Elensky and Vice Mayor Anne Huffman, who had previously started a crafts class to help the COPS unit.
The unit first started to make a splash in early May when it hosted the first annual “Bridging the Gap” event at the COPS substation. The event featured bounce houses, snacks, a dunk tank, face painting, live music, prizes and more.
In June, the COPS unit took 45 local children to Gatorland Orlando to recognize their hard work inside the classroom. The following month, the unit teamed with Parks & Recreation to open up the Lake Eva Aquatic Center to youngsters and allow parents a night out.
After the Bahamas was devastated by Hurricane Dorian near Labor Day weekend, it was the COPS unit that spearheaded the effort to provide relief to those affected. By reaching out to other government agencies, businesses and local schools, the agency was able to set up drop-off locations all throughout Polk County. Donations were accepted throughout September and relief supplies were sent to locations in Miami, St. Petersburg and Tampa.
Last month, the unit was recognized with the Benevolence Award at the city’s quarterly luncheon. All of the COPS’ events and projects have been funded exclusively through private donations.
The unit’s efforts have been widely commended, but they haven’t come without plenty of hard work. Sgt. Colon and the officers have worked tirelessly to make sure all the needs of the community are met and are always looking for additional ways to get involved. On the eve of the final hurricane drop-off, unit members worked until the early hours of the evening stacking pallets with relief supplies to completely fill a 53-foot tractor-trailer.
With a larger unit, COPS should be able to have an even wider reach. The unit will continue to work to reach all neighborhoods throughout the community, ensure a high quality of life and reach at-risk youth -- but now on a larger scale.
About the Author: Mike Ferguson currently serves as the public information officer at the Haines City Police Department. A native of Polk County, Mike previously spent nearly five years as a full-time reporter at The Ledger. Mike contributes to a number of outlets and has work appearing in the Associated Press, Yahoo, FoxSports.com, Athlon Sports and Sports Illustrated online among other publications. Mike earned his bachelor's degree from Florida State University in 2009. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Davenport, Florida with their two children.