City squares off against big-city woes: crime, cars
Orlando, shocked to find that the FBI called its 1980 crime rate the sixth highest in the nation, has set up a crime prevention commission.Skip to next paragraph
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Traffic problems are leading the city to experiment with shuttle buses and to consider underground garages.
And to control urban sprawl, Orlando is encouraging ''cluster housing'' that would concentrate population instead of spreading it over wide spaces.
Crime, traffic, and urban sprawl are all part of the area's growing pains over the past five years.
In April 1981 the mayor asked the business community to form a task force to assess the crime problem and make recommendations. Robert J. Whalen, president of Martin Marietta Orlando Aerospace, the largest manufacturing employer in the county, agreed to chair the panel.
After six months, the crime study commission decided to publish a report with recommendations based on trends using available data. The commission itself acknowledged this was a short time in which to study the problem but felt issuing a report right away was the most meaningful approach. The recomendations included:
* Strengthening the Neighborhood Watch and Crimewatch programs and adding more police officers to the crime prevention squad.
* Making the Orlando Police Department more efficient and productive by hiring civilians to do paper work and free more police officers for duty out on the beat. The study found the number of police officers had declined as more were assigned special duty, such as at the airport. Since the report, a new police chief, formerly from Arvada, Colo., has been hired. His specialty: increasing the police productivity by using computers and civilians.
* Streamlining and improving the judicial system. In a controversial recommendation, the crime study said the county should establish a self-supporting work farm for transients. Since then, a tent city that sprang up as a result of overcrowding of the jails has been torn down and more money appropriated for cement walls and bars.
* Establishing a permanent crime prevention commission, supported by the private sector and working with community groups.
Members of this group, lunching with this correspondent, tried to convey the impression crime was not a problem in Orlando. ''Tourists have nothing to fear, '' one of them said. In the meantime, the commission is trying to determine whether the tourism industry is paying its fair share of the police bill.
In late 1980, the mayor began a crackdown on downtown Orlando's vagrants and prostitutes. Since then, he admits, his attempts to rid the town of transients has slowed: There simply isn't the jail space. Now, he says his goal is quick and certain punishment for criminals.
Since the commission's report, the Orlando newspaper, the Sentinel Star, has reported that crime rose only marginally in 1981. Mr. Whelan says he believes there has been a lot of unreported crime, however. He still says the city has a crime problem it must tackle.
And then there's the traffic problem. ''I see a real ground transportation crunch,'' Mayor Bill Frederick says. Once Disney's EPCOT opens in the fall, an additional 30,000 people a day will be traveling on the Interstate highway to Disney World. Furthermore, the development of downtown Orlando's business district will also mean more traffic.