Fla police dept ends police response to non-violent calls, social service worker will show up instead

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A police department in one Florida city is making major changes to how non-violent emergency calls will be handled.

The St. Petersburg Police Department announced that members of a newly-created “social service agency” will now be responding to calls dealing with issues like suicides, drug overdoses and mental health concerns.  Chief of Police Anthony Holloway and Democratic Mayor Rick Kriseman announced the changes in a news release on Thursday.

“Change is coming to St. Pete Police Department,” Holloway said during a Thursday press conference, explaining that the police department had had discussions with various faith and community groups, as well as protesters and union officials in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

“After all those conversations, we had one common goal. That common goal is very simple: Our citizens are asking for change. The City of St. Petersburg and the police department is ready for that change,” he said.

The new program, which is scheduled to take effect on October 1, was made possible by reallocating funds that were initially meant to hire 25 new officers to the department. Instead, 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,” according to the press release.

“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,” the release stated.

Instead of police officers responding, a member of the new program will follow through on calls about “disorderly juveniles at elementary schools,” as well as calls related to homelessness and panhandling, truancy and “neighborhood disputes.”

The news release noted that out of a total of 259,800 calls that police received last year for service, about 12,700 wre related to those issues listed as non-violent. Holloway noted in the press conference that officers are generally not trained to handle mental health issues and most of the officers don’t have children “but we’re asked sometimes to help someone raise their kid.”

“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,’” the police chief said during the press conferenc. “We’re not coming to those calls. If that person, he or she, is not committing a crime, we’re not going to that.”

Officers will also be required to undergo increased de-escalation and self-defense training and recruits will have to follow up with additional training on Cultural Competency one year after the initial training. Civilian members of the department will be required to receive “Fair and Impartial Policing” training, just as sworn officers already do.

A civilian “from NAACP, Urban League, Faith Leaders and Leadership St. Petersburg” will be added to the police department’s hiring board as well. In addition, a review of existing issues will be undertaken to determine how to improve the use of force policy, the processing of complaints, arrests and monitoring “calls that are based on race only.”

Progressives naturally lauded the move that effectively swapped police officers for social workers for the people of St. Petersburg. But plenty of other social media users started the countdown clock on the impending problems the decision will cause down the line.

 

Frieda Powers

Senior Staff Writer
[email protected]

Originally from New York, Powers graduated from New York University and eventually made her way to sunny South Florida where she has been writing for the BizPacReview team since 2015.
Frieda Powers

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