FORT MYERS, Fla. — A Fort Myers activist is pushing to dissolve the Fort Myers Police Department, and have the Lee County Sheriff's Office take over the city's patrols and criminal investigations. Anthony Thomas believes taxpayers aren't getting their money's worth with FMPD, so he's collecting signatures to try to put the issue of disbanding the department on the 2020 presidential primary ballot.
"The voters are going to decide the issue," Thomas said. "We're asking the citizens of Fort Myers to look at their pocketbooks, and see that the Sheriff's Office can do better."
He points to Estero and Bonita Springs, two other Lee County cities that have opted against establishing their own police departments.
"Why should taxpayers continue to pay $46 million out of a $100 million budget for a police service they can get for free from the Lee County Sheriff's Office?" Thomas said. "It makes no financial sense."
The issue has already been on a ballot - during a 2013 city election, when voters overwhelmingly decided to keep the department.
This time, Thomas believes that having the issue on a presidential primary ballot will give the measure a better chance of passing. He said he has several hundred of the four thousand signatures needed on a petition required to get the issue on the ballot.
"If Democrats and racial minorities come out and vote - and some wise Republicans - there's no way the Fort Myers Police Department will be left standing," he said.
But Crystal Johnson of the Fort Myers Police Review Board doesn't think citizens should count the police department out.
"I see them putting forth effort....to do a better job," Johnson said.
While Thomas said he's unimpressed with the performace of Chief Derrick Diggs after three years on the job, Johnson believes that Diggs has made improvements, such as overcoming past perceptions of racial bias within the department.
"They have been trying to bridge those gaps," Johnson said. "I'm not ready to say that I would like the disbandment of the police department."
Both FMPD and the Lee County Sheriff's Department declined to comment.
Thomas said that if voters decide to keep the police department again, he'll petition to make the job of police chief an elected position on the November 2020 ballot.