At Tiger Bay Bill Foster addresses chase policy, BayWalk, budget

02/23/10 Seán Kinane
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Last week, the St. Petersburg city administration and police department suggested loosening the city’s police chase policy. A new policy would allow police vehicles to pursue some fleeing car thieves and burglars. It was the first subject residents wanted to hear about at Tuesday’s Suncoast Tiger Bay Club meeting featuring St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster.

The slight modification to the pursuit policy really mirrors a state statute, which authorizes police pursuits when chasing forcible felonies. Right now, the policy in St. Petersburg is that they must be in pursuit of a known, or have probable cause to believe that that person has committed a violent felony. All of the risk factors in the existing policy that will be considered by the officer, and a supervisor who will have to authorize the pursuit, they remain the same.

Foster says the new St. Pete chase policy will closely resemble the policies of Tampa police and the Pinellas Sheriff. But the change remains controversial.

There was a letter to the editor—I think it was yesterday or the day before—from the president of the NAACP. And the NAACP has come out with their resolution against the pursuit policy. And they put in there, ‘I don’t want innocent victims to be at risk of police officers traveling through neighborhoods where kids play at 70 and 80 miles an hour.’ And I couldn’t agree more. That is absolutely never going to happen, even when chasing a violent felon. We’re not gonna have cowboys.

The city-subsidized downtown entertainment complex BayWalk is still largely empty, despite an infusion of city cash last year. Foster listed some improvements that have been made, including security and cameras inside the parking garage, but he still calls BayWalk a challenge.

*The city council has authorized the vacation of the city’s rights along the sidewalk, so there can be some monitoring of the sidewalks by those in control of BayWalk. So when it comes to protesters and things like that, those issues won’t exist. But we still have to do everything we can with a security presence, a police presence, to make sure that the sidewalks are clean and what I say ‘Disney-esque.’ ”*

In recent years, St. Petersburg has been called one of the meanest cities in the country toward homeless persons, in part because city police slashed the tents and destroyed the belongings of residents of a homeless encampment. Foster also calls homelessness a continuing challenge.

There’s very little more I can say on that, because we are involved in a federal lawsuit. And as long as that lawsuit is continuing—and there’s probably 20 or 30 counts; it’s a pretty significant lawsuit that has been filed on behalf of, I believe, six homeless individuals, it’s been filed in federal court. And as long as that lawsuit is pending, there’s very little that we can do, especially for those that choose this as a lifestyle.

But Foster suggests his biggest challenge as mayor, the one he has spent the most time trying to tackle, is St. Petersburg’s budget.

When I first started looking at the budget, we were kind of projecting a 10 percent decline in your property values from this year to the next. I had a meeting with [Pinellas County Administrator] Bob LaSala, and I’ll get to that one, too. I’m sure that I heard that question. I had a meeting with Bob LaSala, and he convinced me to base that on a 12 percent reduction in property values. That basically equates to a 14 million dollar impact from FY ’10 to FY ’11.

Previous WMNF coverage of Baywalk: Baywalk Gets Revitilization Help from City

Previous WMNF coverage of Baywalk: Baywalk protests continue after sidewalk privatization

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