St. Pete police won't hire 25 new officers, instead will form new social worker team

Holloway also said St. Petersburg police will not respond to calls based simply on race.

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St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway and Mayor Rick Kriseman just wrapped a Thursday afternoon press conference where they announced a handful of reforms including changes to hiring practices, the inclusion of a community member on its hiring board and the creation of a community assistant liaison team that will be tasked with responding to nonviolent calls.

During the presser Kriseman said that "The money we plan to allocate to our police department to hire more officers will now go toward establishing a response team consisting of community and social services professionals."

Notable changes to St. Petersburg policing announced Thursday

• The creation of a community assistant liaison (“CAL”) team that will respond to non-violent calls (listed below). In creating the CAL team, St. Pete PD is forfeiting $3.125 million the federal government was going to send to help hire 25 new officers.
• The inclusion of a community member on St. Pete PD’s hiring board.
• St. Pete PD will no longer respond to requests for service when someone calls the cops on a person for simply being Black.
• Increasing de-escalation training from required once a year to twice a year, “and if possible, every other month.”
• Increasing self-defense training to twice a year.
• Inclusions of civilians in the police’s already implemented fair and impartial policing training.
• A police equipment evaluation that would look at everything from body cameras all the way down to gun belts.

Holloway said that the money for the community assistant liaison team (a “CAL” team) will come from funds the city originally set aside to match federal money meant to help hire 25 new officers.

“We went back and said you know what, instead of hiring those 25 new officers—which equates to $3.1 million federal dollars that was coming to us for the next three years—let’s develop a new team.”

In a phone call with Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg Police Public Information Officer Yolanda Fernandez clarified Holloway’s statement.

“St. Petersburg Police Department was approved for a $3,125,000 million federal grant to hire new officers. A condition of that grant was that the city would match the funds,” Fernandez explained. “The police department is going to lose those funds with the creation of the CAL team, but the City of St. Pete had earmarked $3.8 million to match the federal grant—that money will now pay for this new service.”

"It's a big sacrifice," Holloway said later in the presser when asked about the toll on manpower the decision will have on his department. "But at the same time, we're getting someone to take care of these non-violent crimes."

Holloway added that the CAL team—whose members will likely be plain clothed, not dressed like a cop—will respond to mental crisis calls instead of a police officer, be it a call about a homeless person or a kid in major trouble with their guardian.

“Normally what happens is we dispatch to someone in a mental crisis, and we probably Baker Act that person. Now we're trying to get someone who's an expert so we don't have to Baker Act that person,” Holloway said.

In a post-press conference press release, St. Pete PD listed the types of calls the CAL team would respond to starting October 1.

  • Disorderly intoxication
  • Drug overdose
  • Intoxicated person
  • Mental health crisis
  • Suicide crisis
  • Mental Health Transport
  • Disorderly juvenile/truancy
  • Disorderly Juvenile at Elementary Schools
  • Panhandling
  • Homeless complaints
  • Neighborhood dispute

The release said St. Pete PD gets “2,700 calls for service on the above issues (out of a total of 259,800 calls for service).”

“The Police Department will monitor calls related to these issues for one year to determine whether this approach has been successful or whether officers were still required to respond to these issues in addition to the CAL team member,” the release said, adding that, “a police officer will always be dispatched to violent or life-threatening situations.”

Holloway said the police department will put out a Request for Proposal in its effort to staff the CAL team. He said it currently takes eight months to get a new police recruit ready to serve on the street, but that the training only includes 40 hours of training on mental health issues

“We want someone that is an expert that can handle those type of calls,” Holloway said.

Also announced in the slight re-imagination of the St. Petersburg Police Department was the news that a community member will sit on St. Pete PD’s hiring board starting October 1.

"It will either be somebody from the NAACP, faith leaders, Urban League, or [the chamber’s] Leadership St. Pete,” Holloway said. “Anyone out there that wants to file an application, if they can pass a background [check, they will be eligible] to sit on this board.”

Holloway added that the single hour per week that officers spend on “Walk and Talk” policing will be upped to “two to three hours a week to make time to build a relationship with the community.”

Holloway also said police will no longer respond to requests for service when someone calls the cops on a person for simply being Black.

“Believe it or not, we still get some calls about, ‘There's an African American male sitting in the park, he doesn't look like us,’” Holloway said. “We're not coming to those calls.That person, he or she's not committing a crime. We're not going to that. We're going to make sure we get information out to the community so they’re aware of it.”

“This is just the beginning of some new changes. We got a lot to go a long way to go,” Holloway added.

What’s more is that the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association (SCPBA, the union represents St. Petersburg police officers) is in support of the plan, which has been weeks in the making.

Jonathan Vasquez, president of the SCPBA, referenced the strain put on police officers when they’re called daily to respond to issues regarding homelessness, family discord, truancy, juvenile behavioral issues, substance abuse and mental abuse. He said that Thursday’s announcement is step towards finding common ground.

“Every police officer, community leader, and citizen I've spoken to agrees it's time for law enforcement to refocus on crime reduction and neighborhood safety,” Vasquez said. “And it's time to allow the experts in the field of social services more opportunities for direct involvement in these incidents.”

Vasquez added that the union accepted the forfeiture of 25 new officers with the expectation that Kriseman and Holloway will work to eliminate the police response to the non criminal social service issues that we described in the press conference.

“We believe this will lead to decreased strain on police resources, reduce restore member officers and better outcomes for our most vulnerable citizens that we serve,” Vasquez said.

Holloway is also increasing de-escalation training from required once a year to twice a year, “and if possible, every other month.” He also wants to increase self-defense training to twice a year.

“We’re gonna teach our officers about hand-to-hand,” Holloway said. “We don't have to go to our weapons all the time.”

The chief also looks to include civilians in the police’s already implemented fair and impartial policing training (in general, that kind of training’s effectiveness is still being debated) and said that the training would now be an eight-hour course with a requirement to repeat and reevaluate after an officer spends year on the street and in the community.

Holloway called for a police equipment evaluation that would look at everything from body cameras all the way down to gun belts

“Why do we have it. And why do we use it,” he said.

He also defended St. Petersburg PD’s “well-written” use of force policy, but said that he’s open to reviewing it and possibly adopting a state standard. Complaint reviews will also be reevaluated.

In somewhat related news, on Tuesday, the St. Petersburg Police Department said it would start issuing warning flyers and then $62.50 tickets to those breaking obstructing traffic laws. In a phone call with CL, St. Pete PD Public Information Officer Fernandez said she wasn’t yet sure about how many times warning would be issued before warranting a ticket.

On Thursday morning, St. Pete PD sent a media alert with video showing a small group of protesters standing in a crosswalk near 1st Avenue N. on July 8 and “refusing to allow a Fire Rescue vehicle through.”

The released added that St. Pete PD received 413 complaint calls about the protesters blocking traffic through July 7.

“This does not count the numerous phone calls and emails sent to individual police supervisors and officers and messages received through the department's social media platforms,” the release said. Kriseman has has received 79 phone calls and emails in the last three weeks from residents complaining about the protesters blocking roads, and in the last 10 days City Council has received at least 15 complaints.

The ambulance’s lights and sirens weren’t on, however, and CL suggested to Fernandez that protesters would willingly make way if the lights and sirens were on to make the emergent nature of the trip known.

In our phone call, Fernandez countered that lights and sirens aren’t always deployed in some instances

“Trips for treating bleed outs and cardiac arrests will always have the lights, but they’re not always on,” Fernandez told CL. “And if that ambulance was headed back to the fire station after a call, then that’s more time before it’s ready to go back out.”

When told that protesters are in the streets as cry to be heard by police and city officials, Fernandez said not a single protester has sent a list of demands to Chief Holloway or Mayor Kriseman. She referenced a list of demands issued by some protesters over the weekend, but reiterated that St. Pete PD has not officially been sent the list.

When CL reached out to a spokesperson for Mayor Kriseman to find out how protesters may officially send their demands, the responded, “Email? Mail us? Phone call. However they want to reach out…”

If you are a protester who has documentation of trying to send demands to St. Petersburg city or police officials, please email [email protected] to let us know.

UPDATED: 07/09/20 3:30 p.m. Updated to include information from press releases, calls between CL and city officials, plus additional press conference statements.

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