Downtown Sarasota merchants increase private security

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Despite the presence of the city police force, the Downtown Improvement District and Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association is hiring additional private security to expand on the current security presence in the area.

"We'll have a lot more beefed up security downtown, make it a nicer place to be," says Ron Soto of the Downtown Merchants Neighborhood Association.

The groups say the vagrant issue and panhandling downtown is what caused them to take the initiative. And some residents agree.

"There is a vagrant problem still, and I say that's separate from homeless," says Sarasota resident Shari Shepard

They describe the vagrants as being aggressive causing patrons to be uncomfortable, which causes concern among the merchants.

"The other day I had one guy that was just like very aggressive, some customers left and I had to come and talk with the guy," says C’est La Vie owner Christopher Coutelle.

But other business owners told ABC 7 they see no need for extra security, while some residents we spoke to who frequent downtown businesses say they feel perfectly safe the way it is now.

The Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association along with several stores on Main Street have already hired their own private security. The Merchants Association covers the cost of that security. The Downtown Improvement District says they are planning to perform a study and see how they can move forward to increase security beyond Main Street to include the greater downtown area.

"How would we go about this?” asks Ernest Ritz of the Downtown Improvement District. “How could we work with the police department? We're not trying to replace the police department, we're trying to augment it."

The Downtown Improvement District will continue their discussion on the potential for security patrol at its next meeting two weeks from now.