St. Petersburg takes a step to defund the police; instead of 25 officers, city will hire social workers

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On Thursday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced a step that will partially defund the police.

Police Chief Anthony Holloway said the department plans to use grant money that was supposed to be for hiring new officers and instead use the funds for social workers who will respond to nonviolent calls for people needing social services. That’s one of the major demands of the “defund the police” movement gaining steam during more than a month of protests against police violence and racism.

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The new team will be known as CAL Team – Community Assistance Liason

Chief Holloway said not hiring the 25 police officers would be a huge sacrifice, but remaining officers would be freed up to concentrate on the safety of the community and on responding to crime.

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The head of the police union, John Vazquez, said he supports not hiring these police officers.

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Police announced other reform measures as well (see below).

St. Pete Mayor Kriseman says social service calls are about 5 percent of all calls that come in to police. About 18-20 social service professionals will be hired to handle those 12,000 to 14,000 calls per year. Kriseman also put out an invitation to Black Lives Matter protesters, saying, “Let’s talk to each other. Let’s listen to each other.”

On Tuesday, St. Pete Police announced it would enforce pedestrian traffic rules when protesters don’t use the sidewalk or obstruct or hinder traffic. Police cite the “safety of pedestrians and the community.”

But Wednesday WMNF spoke with several protesters who don’t think police are doing enough to protect protesters exercising First Amendment rights. Meli Piechocki has participated in nightly demonstrations in St. Petersburg.

“I’m interested to see what it’s going to be going forward. I’m out there every day marching. We’re getting a lot of support. But we are getting pushback, too. Mostly when we are in wealthier neighborhoods. They don’t want us there. They’re getting aggressive. They’re getting out of their vehicles, shouting, they’re screaming, they’re yelling profanities. They’re putting hands on our protesters. And nothing is happening about any of that. So, I’m feeling a little frustrated that the statutes are aimed at us protesters and there’s nothing being targeted or focused at the aggression coming towards us.”

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Kofi Hunt

Kofi Hunt. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News 2 June 2011.

Several protesters have been struck by vehicles across the country, including two in Tampa.

Kofi Hunt is co-chair of Pinellas Democratic Socialists of America. He’s concerned that by threatening to ticket protesters, police are missing the real perpetrators.

“They act like all crimes are equal. No they’re not. And running someone over, potentially killing them, inflicting an act of terrorism – if you want to take it there – is a much harsher crime than walking in the street. ”

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Jalessa Blackshear has participated in the recent protests in St. Petersburg.

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On Thursday, St. Pete Police released video (see below) of a Fire Rescue vehicle delayed by demonstrators. The truck does not appear to have its emergency lights on. During the 39 second video, several other vehicles reroute around the protesters walking in the crosswalk.

 

Video of St. Petersburg Police Department announcing CAL:

 

Video of protesters in a crosswalk:

 

Here’s more, as provided by the St. Petersburg Police Department:

Date: Thu Jul 09, 2020 15:05:41

From: St Petersburg Police Department

Mayor Kriseman and Chief of Police Anthony Holloway Announce Significant Change in Police Response.

The City of St. Petersburg Police Department will create a new division within the Police Department called the Community Assistance Liaison, to expand our approach to public safety by retaining a social service agency to respond to non-violent calls for service from the public. Beginning October 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

 

In 2019, the Police Department responded to approximately 12,700 calls for service on the above issues (out of a total of 259,800 calls for service).

This new division will take over these calls rather than moving forward with a previous commitment to add 25 new officers over the next two years. The Police Department 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 instead use those funds to pay for this new 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

A police officer will always be dispatched to violent or life-threatening situations.

Here are the additional points the Chief made:

Additional Training

-Increase De-escalation training from the current one time a year, to two times a year formal training and informal training with 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 Dept.

(sworn officers already receive this training annually)

-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 our hiring board. The civilian will come from NAACP, Urban League, Faith Leaders and Leadership St. Petersburg.

-Park, Walk, and Talks (when officers park their patrol cars and walk the areas they patrol to get to know the people they serve) will go from 1 hour per week, to 2 hours per week.

 

Comprehensive review to look for ways to improve:

-Use of Force policy

-How complaints are processed

-Who are we arresting and why?

-Monitor calls that are based on race only

 

Listen to the 5:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 9 July 2020:

Listen to the 4:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 9 July 2020:

Listen to the 3:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 9 July 2020: