Growth on the Treasure Coast is putting strain on the Fort Pierce Police Department as the agency tries to keep up.
According to data from the U.S. Census, in 2020 the population in Fort Pierce was 41,590. In 2022, it jumped up to 48,305, an increase of nearly 7,000 people.
Additionally, the Fort Pierce Police Department said total service calls increased too. In 2018, there were 71,112 calls, and in 2022, there were 86,855 an increase of nearly 16,000.
“We have a lot of businesses that are coming into the city,” Lt. David Cuti, who has been with the department for 25 years, said.
At the same time, according to a presentation made to the city Aug. 10, since 2005 the department has lost 230 officers. The department has hired others since, including three more positions, which are budgeted for the next fiscal year, which police said they’re grateful for. However, that’s still not enough.
“Currently we aren’t keeping up with the amount of growth, so the officers that are working on the streets are being overworked,” Cuti said.
Police said 61% of the calls coming in are from the Okeechobee Road corridor, and about 75% of those calls along Okeechobee Road occurred at local businesses.
They said the most frequent types of calls are traffic crashes, disturbances, larceny, unwelcome or suspicious persons, false alarms and domestic trouble, averaging about 7,515 calls per year, 145 calls per week and 21 calls per day.
Through the beginning of August, the five businesses with the highest call volume were Walmart with 967 calls, Surestay with 329, Love’s Travel Stop with 292, Wawa with 278, and America’s Best with 255 calls.
Cuti said because of that high volume, the police department is now thinking of putting in a substation in that area.
“Getting from here to our problematic areas out west is a drive, especially during the day with traffic,” Cuti said.
Beau Slay, the general manager of Moonswiners BBQ, located along Okeechobee Road, knows how busy the area can get.
“You see a lot of people in here, and you’re not even seeing the amount of people flowing outside,” Slay said.
In the restaurant’s 25 years of business, Slay said they’ve certainly seen the area change.
“Since COVID we saw an exponential growth,” Slay said. “I think the area’s growing.”
Slay said he’s grateful for the effort from the police department. After all, if anyone can understand the hullabaloo off the highway, it’s him.
“Typically the whole inside’s filled up, and people are waiting,” Slay said. “We just try to be the best product we can be for our community, and they reward us back by coming back and supporting us.”
Cuti said the department is now working on a plan to recruit and hire, but one of the challenges they’re working on is figuring out how to be competitive with other agencies.
The police department is also actively educating the community on safety and crime prevention in an effort to reduce the calls coming in.