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St. Pete police creating new group to respond to non-violent 911 calls instead of officers

Pinellas County

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – The St. Petersburg Police Department announced Thursday it will be creating a new division to help change the way officers respond to 911 calls.

The division is called the Community Assistance Liaison and is being created to expand SPPD’s approach to public safety by retaining a social service agency to respond to non-violent calls for service from the public.

St.Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway said their average police officer is 25-years-old. “We’re asked sometimes to help someone raise their kid or someone who has a mental health issue. Yes we go to a lot of training, but not enough, we’re not experts in that,” said Chief Holloway. So they’re reallocating their resources.

“Reducing police response to non-criminal incidents has been a long-standing issue. It should increase police visibility, crime reduction, police visibility to our citizens,” said Sun Coast Florida Police Benevolent Association President Jonathan Vasquez.

Starting Oct. 1, instead of sending a police officer, a CAL team member will respond to the following
issues:

  • 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

According to police, SPPD responded to approximately 12,700 calls for service, out of 259,800, on the above issues in 2019.

The new division will take over these calls instead of the police department adding 25 new officers over the next two years. As a result, SPPD will lose $3,125,000 in federal grant funding awarded to pay for the new officers and $3,800,000 the city had earmarked in matching funds required by the grant. The city will now instead use those funds to pay for this new service.

The police department will monitor the calls related to the above issues for one year to see if the approach has been successful or whether officers were still needed to respond to these issues in additional to a CAL team member.

Additionally, St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway also mentioned several things in which his officers need to have additional training in.

  • Increase de-escalation training from the current one time a year to two times a year formal training and informal training with a simulator.
  • Increase self-defense tactics training from the current one time a year to two times a year so that officers have more options than reaching for weapons.
  • Fair & impartial policing training for civilian employees of the police department.
  • Additional training for recruits. Recruits already receive cultural competency training with community members. They will also have to return after a year for additional training on cultural competency.
  • Add a civilian to SPPD’s hiring board. This individual will come from the NAACP, Urban League, Faith Leaders and Leadership St. Petersburg.
  • Park, Walk, and Talks, which is when officers park their patrol cars and walk the areas they patrol to get to know the people they serve, will go from one hour per week to two hours per week.

Furthermore, the St. Petersburg Police Department will look for ways to improve the use of force policy, how complaints are processed, who are officers arresting and why, and monitor calls that are based on race only.

Mayor Rick Kriseman said moving forward he wants to have face-to-face conversations with protesters.

“The conversations are tough ones, I’m committed to having them. I’m inviting protest leaders to join us for a facilitated conversation of concerns and plans of continued improvement we all seek. I hope they will accept our invitation,” Kriseman said

News Channel 8’s Christine McLarty asked the mayor when he plans to have those conversations — he said plans are in the works. Thursday morning city council members said they hope to have an open forum for face-to-face conversations with protesters potentially as soon as next week.

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