"This was the worst storm I've worked on," said Marco Island Police Department officer Emilio Rodriguez, who's been a firefighter/police officer in Florida for 30 years. Hurricane Irma made landfall on Marco Island on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. Lisa Conley/Naples Daily News
The Marco Island Police Department’s success is due in large part to the support it receives from the community, and that support was evident at Tuesday’s sold out “Lunch with the Chief" event.
During the luncheon, which was sponsored by the Marco Island Police Foundation and held at Hideaway Beach Club, MIPD Chief Al Schettino gave an overview of the department’s work throughout the year, including its biggest challenge: Hurricane Irma.
“Everybody hoped and prayed it would go somewhere else,” he said, “but at a certain point we realized it wasn’t going anywhere else; it was going to be a direct hit.”
That’s when the police department began working with city, county and state officials to make the necessary preparations for the storm, including securing enough food, water and fuel for its staff. The officers then began making their own personal preparations.
“We made sure that everybody had the opportunity to go home and take care of their properties and families,” Schettino said. “That actually became a challenge … because a lot of families didn’t have a secure place to go, so that’s something we need to look at in the future.”
Other things to consider include increasing the amount of supplies, obtaining more high water vehicles and having a vehicle mechanic on site.
Prior to the storm, the police force split into two units, Alpha and Bravo. The officers in each unit worked 12-hour shifts so that, as a whole, they were monitoring the island 24/7. Schettino said the department fielded 3,059 calls during Irma, which is approximately the same number of calls it usually receives during the course of an entire month.
Immediately after the hurricane passed, officers began responding to the calls. Luckily the floodwater, which was three to five feet high on some parts of the island, had already started to recede, and members of the city's Public Works Department promptly began clearing the streets of debris.
"All I can say about Tim Pinter and his team is that they were like animals," Schettino said. "They plowed the roads like it was snow."
In the days, weeks and months after the storm, the city experienced a slight uptick in crime, which was expected.
"When a natural disaster takes place, there's an influx of people in the area," he said. "Usually they're there to help, but there are also a few people who are there to do harm."
The chief also noted that the 2017 summer crime rate slightly increased, too, due to an increase in the island's population.
Nevertheless, Marco Island still has one of the state's lowest crime rates, which is thanks to the hard work of the MIPD officers, Schettino said, and there was one officer in particular who gave it his all this past year.
"This officer consistently displays a hard work ethic and he can be counted on every day," Schettino said. "No matter what's going on in his personal life, he maintains a positive attitude and he's truly a great asset to the force."
'He' is marine officer Robert Marvin, and the 2017 Officer of the Year.
Marvin was born and raised in Key West. He worked for the Collier County Sheriff's Office from 1985 to 2012 when he left to work for the MIPD.
"I couldn't be happier to serve the people of this island and to receive their support in return," he said after receiving both the award and a kiss from his wife. "Thank you."
During the luncheon Marco Island City Council Vice-Chair and former U.S. Army garrison commander Charlette Roman swore in five new officers. There is currently no date set for the next "Lunch with the Chief."