St. Petersburg Police Chief addresses Suncoast Tiger Bay, answers safety and ethics questions

07/19/11 Janelle Irwin
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The St. Petersburg Chief of Police met with Suncoast Tiger Bay Club members today. Chuck Harmon spoke about added safety precautions the department has taken in the wake of three officer deaths. He also answered questions from members about public safety and ethics.

As Tiger Bay Club members lunched on orange glazed chicken, Harmon discussed his thoughts on the recent deaths of officers Jeffery Yaslowitz, Thomas Baitinger and David Crawford and told them what he plans to do to make sure such tragedies don’t occur again on his watch. Among suggested safety precautions was a consideration to allow officers to wear bullet-proof vests over their uniforms, giving them the ability to only wear it during necessary circumstances. Doing so, he says, would get almost unanimous use of the potentially life saving vests.

Once the questions started though, Harmon had to answer for some other controversial topics. Emily Worden asked him about whether the city still suffers from perceptions of employing racist and corrupt officers. In June, 39 year-old Anthony Foster, a veteran city cop, was taken into custody on charges of extortion after he allegedly used department recourses to gain at least $8,000 worth of items from an informant. Harmon urged that corrupt actions such as that will not be tolerated by the agency.

Worden recently spoke with a retired Atlanta City Chief who discussed the difficulties of battling negative public perception. Her only hope is that negative perceptions are dealt with appropriately.

Another topic not addressed by club members was recent policy to require St. Petersburg’s homeless people to accept beds at shelters if they are available. If they refuse, people attempting to sleep on city streets face arrest. Though, Harmon explains, there have been no arrests as a result of the policy as of yet due to extensive efforts to inform the city’s homeless of the new policy.

Morrie Cohen is a retired social worker. He has extensive experience with homeless issues. He isn’t sure forcing homeless to go to a shelter is the best thing for them, especially when so many have had negative experiences in them.

Retired St. Petersburg resident, George Burke also had concerns as to whether or not forcibly requiring homeless to go to a shelter is the right thing to do.

Harmon also made mention of a collaboration with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office, the agency that runs the Pinellas Safe Harbor facility. He did not go into specifics, but did motion to Deputy Sheriff Bob Gualtieri that he would not give the press release today. He did not say when a press conference would occur or what it would regard.

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