Policing the Cape: Original department started with three officers
From humble beginnings, the Cape Coral Police Department has become ranked as one of the safest cities in Florida year after year.
Established in 1971, CCPD began with just three patrol officers, a sergeant and chief when they first set up shop in the former Gulf American Corporation model home center at Southeast 44th Street and Del Prado Boulevard.
Gordon Shute was one of the first officers hired to the department in 1971. He recently had traveled to the area from New York where he had worked in law enforcement, and was staying in Fort Myers when he saw on the news a town called Cape Coral had just been incorporated. Shute, then 37 and looking for new employment opportinities, noticed the city was forming a police department and thought with his experience, he would be a good candidate.
He interviewed with inaugural police chief Jim White, who told Shute to work on getting his paperwork from New York to Florida to have him accredited in the Sunshine State. In the meantime, City Manager Cliff Ryan sent Shute a letter stating that he had been chosen as a charter member for the police department with a salary of $7,000 annually.
“I still have that letter,” said Shute.
Shute began with the department in July, and the CCPD went fully operational on Aug. 9, 1971, with seven patrol officers (including Shute), Chief White, Lt. James Carroll and Sgts. William Beyer and William Gilmore.
Policing the streets of Cape Coral in 1971 was a contrasting experience from New York for Shute, as the city only had two signal lights on Cape Coral Parkway when he first started. The new department was also tasked with integrating themselves into the community.
“The Sheriff’s Office would patrol once in a while when they were called out, but there was really no ‘control’ of anything here — but there was really no crime,” Shute said. “There were only about 9,000 people here at that time. The crime didn’t come until later on until the population started to grow.”
He remembers going to residents’ doors during the day to introduce themselves as the new department in town so they could familiarize themselves with local law enforcement.
Shute recalled having two police cars that would patrol the north and south areas of the city to start, and it took a few months before they could communicate through radios that weren’t temporary. He said if one car needed assistance, the other would have to hastily come from the other side of the city to assist.
“As you went around the corner you had to grab a hold of the radio because it would slide around the floor,” Shute remembered.
He said within a month, they were up to eight or 10 officers on the force and he was promoted to sergeant.
He remembers the crowded location of their office at the then-city hall on Del Prado Boulevard.
“The entire city was in that building,” Shute said. “I could step out in the center (of the location) and tell a joke and tell it to everyone in city hall at one time, that’s how close we were.”
Shute was with the department for 17 years until 1987, having served as a sergeant, lieutenant and retiring as a captain.
He had a front-row seat to the early development of the city patrolling the streets.
“We went from two signal lights on Cape Coral Parkway and a flashing light on Del Prado and Pine Island, to now 19 signal lights on Del Prado alone,” Shute said.
He remembers early chatter speculating that development north of Pine Island Road would take decades to get done — “it came in a lot sooner than that.”
As a captain back then, he was in charge of the entire administration division. Over the years, he continued to see the department expand.
“We gradually kept getting bigger and bigger,” Shute said. “More officers, more zones to cover and more patrol cars.”
Shute remembers in 1975 when then-candidate for president Ronald Reagan came to visit Cape Coral. A lieutenant at the time, he said it was an interesting experience working with the Secret Service.
“We had it set up so that if we had to evacuate him, we were going to take him to the Yacht Club and we had a power boat standing by there so we can take him out that way.”
Shute was integral in creating the CCPD Honor Guard that attends events around the city and county.
“I trained them and marched with them,” Shute said.
Shute also helped start the CCPD Marine Unit. The department purchased its first patrol boat with funds from a different boat they had confiscated and auctioned in 1972.
He and two other Cape Coral residents also started the first Marine Crime Watch in the nation.
“We started that here in Cape Coral,” Shute said. “I was in charge of the Neighborhood Crime Watch, so I established the Marine Crime Watch.”
In his retirement, Shute loves to travel with his wife, Phyllis, whom he met working at the department. Phyllis was the chief’s secretary for the department for nine years before working in city hall for another 14.
Current CCPD Chief David Newlan has spent the majority of his life in Cape Coral as well, having moved to the city as a youth in 1978.
He remembers riding his bike around the growing city and watching it develop as time passed.
A graduate of Cape Coral High School, Newlan has been with the department since 1991 and chief since 2016.
An important moment in CCPD’s history occurred in 2009 when the department moved from its administrative complex on Nicholas Parkway to a newly built $21.6 million public safety building at the corner of Cultural Park Boulevard and Nichols Parkway, where they remain today. The headquarters is directly adjacent to City Hall and is nearly 100,000 square-feet.
“The funny thing was that in the old facility, we were out of space and on top of each other. Then we went to the new building and it was good, but the thing we had to learn was being segregated from everybody,” Newland said.
The three-floor headquarters was quite the change of scenery for the CCPD staff. Newlan said they had to make a point of staying in contact and keeping up the camaraderie, as the more spread out facility was something new to which to adjust.
“It changed the dynamics, it changed the culture a little bit,” Newlan said. “We had to get used to that change to make sure we didn’t lose that family unit we always had. One of the biggest things you want to emphasize as an organization is good communication.”
The chief said communication not just within the department, but also within the community, is an integral part of having a successful unit.
“We’ve always been very lucky here to have a great relationship with the community,” Newlan said. “Our success of being one of the safest cities in Florida — that doesn’t just go to us, it goes to the community. We would not be successful or safe without the community’s help. If you don’t have transparency and the trust of your community, you’re not going to be successful.”
Newland said the department is always gracious and humbled when residents stop by to show them support, whether it’s in the form of lunch or thank you cards from local students.
“I can tell you it means a lot to the officers,” Newlan said.
The department has come a long way since its inception and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2021. What started out as a handful of law enforcement officers has now grown in size substantially, mirroring the population of the city they protect. There are now 274 sworn officers, 98 unsworn staff and more than 150 volunteers.
CCPD has also earned some lofty recognition along the way. They are the only agency in the state of Florida that is accredited in the areas of law enforcement, communications and forensics.
“Accreditations are important,” Newlan said. “We have policies and the best practices in place that maintain a level of professionalism that we follow — and these are vetted every year. We are constantly changing our policies to stay up to date on current practices and trends. You have to be at the forefront of what’s out there so you’re always one step ahead.
“We’re constantly looking to release new programs — to be the first in the area.”
A new training facility for CCPD was approved for construction in the near future, which Newlan believes will greatly benefit the department.
“You have to be able to train the officers enough so that they feel protected and so the public is properly protected — training is so important,” Newlan said.
Another aspect of the CCPD Newlan hopes to see continue to stand out going forward is its School Resource Officers program.
“What’s more important than protecting our kids?” Newlan said. “We want students to be able to feel safe and focus on their education. We want teachers and staff to feel safe and want parents to know their kids are safe. We’re very proud of the program and are always looking to expand on it.”
He hopes to see the department grow with the city into the future as his tenure as chief winds down heading into 2021.
–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj