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Downtown Lakeland hiring armed security to address panhandling, other issues

The Lakeland Downtown Development Authority will pay $8,000 per month for an armed guard through a company called Signal 88 Security.

LAKELAND, Fla. — Businesses near downtown Lakeland are about to get an armed private security guard starting May 1.

The Lakeland Downtown Development Authority says it’s hiring the patrol to address what it calls an ongoing problem with panhandling and other non-desirable behaviors in and around Munn Park.

They’ll pay $8,000 per month for an armed guard through a company called Signal 88 Security.

The six-month trial idea has some people upset since many of the spaces where panhandling occurs are public property, like sidewalks that local restaurants now use for outside dining.

“And sometimes it escalates because that person doesn’t want to leave, and they say they know their rights and they get into an altercation,” the authority’s Executive Director Julie Townsend explained. “We don’t want the business owners or frankly any of their employees to have to deal with that kind of confrontation.”

But some who stay in the park say it’s a solution in search of a problem and are concerned about being intimidated on public property.

“Of course, if there’s going to be a ruckus, they have to separate it, but don’t use force,” a man who identified himself as Myles said. “Use of force only exacerbates the situation.”

Business operators and property owners will be given a number they can call to contact the security guard if needed. Lakeland police could also be called to file charges, they say, if it rises to that level.

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