Current photos by TS Gallant Photography
The face of the Cape Coral Police Department for the past seven years, Lieutenant Dana Coston, Public Affairs Officer, recently announced he is taking on a new role, starting up the Community Services Bureau. This new branch of the department will, among other things, coordinate the activities of the Community Outreach Program, Police Volunteer Unit, and the School Resource Officer program.
“I have been transitioning out of my former role and, at the same time, assisting Master Sergeant Allan Kolak as he transitions into his new role in Public Affairs. Today, that transition is complete, and I leave Public Affairs in very capable hands. For the second time in my career, I get to do something very few get to do and create something new from the ground up. I am fortunate to be part of the leadership team that will build our brand new Community Services Bureau (CSB).”
Looking back, Coston originally had other plans for his life. He attended college at Emory University in Atlanta, majoring in Political Science and History, with eyes toward law school.
He changed his focus, however, after experiencing the enforcement side of the law through ride-alongs with friends who were members of the police force.
Risking disappointing his parents, Coston, wanting to do more for his community, joined the Fulton County Police Department. During his three years there, the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, he worked in the high crime Atlanta metropolitan area, learning much from his work with the Georgia community.
Desiring a better quality of life for his growing family, as well as a shorter commute (less than the two hours it took at the time) he looked to Cape Coral for its potential. After a ride-along and a meeting with (then) Chief Arnold Gibbs, Coston was convinced he had found his new home.
“We had family here, I liked the area, and most of all I admired and respected the way that Chief Gibbs supported his people.”
Coston moved his family here, serving as a patrol officer for two years before being offered a position as a School Resource Officer (SRO) at Caloosa Middle School.
“There was a vision to change what the SRO was, from a safe, end-of-career position, to one which involved young, energetic officers, who would be more interactive with the kids. This new role would involve both forming positive relationships with the students, while also allowing the officer to gather intelligence on juvenile and gang-related crime within the community,” Coston explained.
Coston became the agency’s gang specialist, and his work in locating and documenting gang members and associates got him noticed. This led to Coston being selected as a detective. His expertise made Coston a sought-after candidate for a Joint Terrorism Task Force with the FBI. During his three years attached to the FBI, Coston worked on domestic and international terrorism cases with ties here to Southwest Florida and achieved what very few task-force officers ever achieve: he became an adjunct instructor for the FBI Academy, teaching agents how to recruit confidential human sources.
Returning to Cape Coral, Coston again returned to the streets as Patrol Sergeant. It was during a conversation with (then) Chief Jay Murphy that Coston’s career took a turn.
At the time, Murphy was seeking to modernize the department after years of recession-era budget cuts. He asked Coston’s opinion on how he thought that could be best accomplished; an updated website, as well as a social media presence on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, were among Coston’s suggestions.
“It was a time where the media portrayed a less than positive view of the department, and we needed to tell stories from the Police Department’s point of view. A person representing the Department needed to be in front of the camera. We needed to post videos showing the things our officers did well, in addition to mistakes that were made, for the public to see,” Coston recalled.
A few days later, he got a call from the Chief that he and another officer, (then) Lieutenant Tony Sizemore, would be the members of the newly created Public Affairs Office. This office that didn’t exist yet, but would be “extra duties and responsibilities” as they took on roles in the Professional Standards Bureau.
“The job has changed quite a bit since then,” Coston explained, recalling his promotion seven years ago. “We were given a “junk room” to turn into a media room, a small hand-held camera to video interviews, and an old laptop, brought from home, to create and update social media pages for the department.”
This new department went against all conventional wisdom of the time, bringing more transparency to department activities. Though many were against the use of Social Media, Coston used the relatively new medium to his advantage, posting department briefings online at the same time they were given to the press. Since that time, the program, and department have become a model for others within the nation.
Coston now intends to bring his experience to the Community Services Bureau, efficiently keeping up with the growing demands of the community. His new job will include overseeing existing programs like the Citizens Police Academy, Do the Right Thing Program, and “Shop With a Cop.”
“It will be our job to keep up with new technology and innovation. While we don’t want to be beta-testers for new advances, we do want to keep up with the times – the latest trends, newest technology, etc. For example, agency-wide we plan to expand the use of body cameras, drones, and social media.”
Due to recent events, the program most visible will be Cape Coral’s re-entry to the School Resource Officer Program.
“After Stoneman Douglas, the state mandated that police officers be in all schools. Chief Newlan stepped up, insisting that Cape officers be in all Lee County District schools located within the city to balance the schools’ needs with department wants. CCPD used to have a presence in all schools in Cape Coral before the recession forced the City, and thus the Department, to reduce our budget.”
Coston plans to use this program to rebuild relations with Lee County Schools, as well as the students of Cape Coral, engaging them with what they know and understand.
“School Resource Officers have such a unique opportunity to close a gap that exists in our community, the department, and in our kids’ lives in three key ways. First, through mentorship, our officers will be able to connect with and provide guidance to kids, helping them make positive decisions, build character, and grow into responsible young adults. Some of these kids don’t have that.”
“Second, through education, SROs can provide valuable lessons to kids about safety, and the law, so that they can understand the consequences of unsafe or even criminal behavior.”
“Finally, through law enforcement, our officers will keep our kids safe by enforcing the law in and around our school campuses. Through this program, we can augment the efficiency of the CCPD, enhancing services provided, while building strong connections with the youth in our community.”
Leaving the Public Affairs Office in the capable hands of Master Sergeant Allan Kolak, Coston is looking forward to the challenges of his new role, continuing to serve his community in a different capacity, while bringing the same energy and enthusiasm to his new position. If his past record is any indication, building the Community Services Bureau will be another shining success on Coston’s resume.