In his opening remarks, Harris, a 25-year lifeguard and former Marine, described himself as “your neighbor,” noting, “I care deeply about the beach community.” He said he felt it was important to “put our lifestyles and our way of life” ahead of “projects for companies and builders.”
Concerning illegally operating marijuana dispensaries, Harris said he was monitoring the situation closely. He said the city’s code-compliance arm has been directed to outline what steps are being taken to shut dispensaries down.
“I’m getting a report every month on where every single one of these [illegal dispensaries] are in the process [of being closed],” Harris said. “My promise is, we are on it.”
Harris urged residents to get involved in local government and community planning to enact the changes they hope for.
“Make sure developers build what the community wants, not what they want to build,” Harris said.
After introducing Zimmerman, Harris said recent budget cuts have decimated the police department, leaving it much like a sinking ship.
“We’ve cut salaries, taken their health-care benefits, forced out police officers,” Harris said. “That’s not good politics.”
Harris said Zimmerman has a lot of financial and operational holes to plug in order to right the ship.
“Things will get a little worse before they get better,” Harris said. “I have all the confidence in the world in [Zimmerman].”
An Ohio State graduate and Midwestern transplant, Zimmerman praised the audience turnout, noting “Everyone is here because we’re committed to make things better.”
Noting police badges are “not just a piece of polished metal” and that “America’s finest” isn’t just a slogan on a squad car, Zimmerman said the department’s commitment to improve public safety “starts with me as chief and goes all the way through our newest recruit.We’re instilling a culture of excellence.”
Asked about crime statistics, Zimmerman said there is just one measurement: “Do you feel safe in your neighborhood? The reality is, we need to work together to ensure everyone feels safe in their neighborhoods.”
Zimmerman would like to extend the outreach of Neighborhood Watch programs and social media to help police officers better do their jobs.
“Neighborhood Watch groups have gone from 4,000 to 30,000 and we’d like to make it 50,000, then 100,000,” she said. “If we can just get 1 percent more of our 1.3 million people in the city involved, that’s more than 13,000 people working together and sharing information to make our communities safer from those criminals that prey upon us.”
Regarding the busy tourist season now under way, Zimmerman said police have their “summertime beach teams up and running,” working closely with local bars, restaurants and shops to “make sure it’s a safe environment for everyone. We want people to be responsible and leave in a safe manner.”
Addressing the use of noisy police helicopters, Zimmerman described them as “critical pieces of equipment helping officers get to the scene as quickly as possible to ensure the likelihood of a positive outcome. Helicopters are invaluable.”
Harris, who will be replaced in District 2 by Lorie Zapf in December, said he is a firm believer in dealing with the causes, rather than the symptoms, of crime and other societal problems.
“We need to go to the root of the problem and fix it one time and not keep treating symptoms, which is what we’ve done for years here,” Harris said.