St. Petersburg activist groups demand less police funding for 2023, more public housing

The demands come after Mayor Ken Welch stood by the police budget increase last week.

click to enlarge A St. Petersburg police department cruiser. - Photo via City of St. Pete/Flickr
Photo via City of St. Pete/Flickr
A St. Petersburg police department cruiser.

As St. Petersburg aims at a record high police budget, housing advocates argue that the money could be put to better use in public housing and other services.

On Wednesday May 25, the St. Petersburg Tenants Union (SPTU) and the Party for Socialism and Liberation Tampa Bay will hold a protest at city hall to voice their concerns.

The demonstration will take place at 6 p.m. at St. Petersburg City Hall.

The proposed 2023 budget for St. Pete Police Department is $131,147,141—a nearly $5 million increase from last year, according to the SPPD records department. Last week, people sounded off at a city council meeting about their desire to move some of that funding to public housing and other services.

But Mayor Ken Welch stood by the unprecedented police budget.

"I'm always open for a conversation," Welch said. "What I'm not open to is defunding our police department, our police department does an excellent job."

In response, the groups will host a demonstration to call for the city to reconsider the budget.

"If approved, the cops will have received over one billion dollars since 2015," SPTU wrote in a press release.

Numbers from St. Pete Police Department confirm this. If the 2023 police funding is approved, SPPD will have received more than $1,019,182,815 in funding since 2015.

SPPD told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that the increase in funding is attributed to some increases for programs and gear:

  • $1,269,625 for the Community Assistance and Life Liaison (CALL) Program

  • $1,450,344 for the Body Worn Camera Program

  • $5,703,215 for increases to salaries, benefits, including funding for 25 additional officers, and internal service charges applied to the Police Department from other City departments.

SPTU and PSL want SPPD to invest more of the proposed budget increase into the CALL program, which responds to non-violent and mental health calls without the police being involved.
The groups added that more city funds should be invested in Universal Basic Income pilot program for families residing in historically marginalized neighborhoods, a right to counsel program for any tenant facing eviction in the city, and the establishment of city-owned & operated co-op grocery stores in Tangerine Plaza, the Skyway Marina District, and Coquina Key. The groups also want universal access to free public transit for city residents on the county's public transit system.

They want the city to prioritize a strictly public option for affordable housing that doesn't involve city money going to private companies to develop the housing. To do this, the groups say the city needs to move away from overfunding police.

"Despite years of disproportionate investment in the cops, crime rates in St. Pete continue to exceed local, state & national averages, while the department is solving less than half the crimes it was 20 years ago," SPTU wrote in a press release.

The City of St. Pete sent CL a Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Crime Index report from April, which shows a 22.9% drop in crime over the past five years. The document showed homicides down 28.6% over that span of time, and robbery being down 43.1%.

The U.S. Department of Justice has reported that the UCR's murder and non-negligent manslaughter data is, "so seriously flawed that the only figure they can provide criminologists is the number of deaths investigated by police as potentially criminal homicides, and the weapons use data reported by the UCR and the National Crime Survey (victimization data) are unreliable as well."

Other concerns pointed out with UCR include errors and biases within the reports and aggregating offenses that are dissimilar into single categories.

As the housing crisis continues, SPTU and PSL will demonstrate on Wednesday to insist  the city move away from increasing the police budget, and toward more public services. The protest occurs on the anniversary of George Floyd's murder at the hands of police officers.

"It’s time the city alters the course from this failed policy approach to public health & safety," SPTU wrote.

Last year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis passed a controversial law, which gives the state the ability to step in if cities try to reduce police budgets or divert police money to other social services. A group of Florida cities filed a lawsuit in response, claiming the law is unconstitutional. The lawsuit is ongoing.

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia has written for The Nation, Investigative Reporters & Editors Journal, the USA Today Network and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 

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