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Police social worker program launch planned for early 2021

Margie Manning



Social service workers won’t hit the streets to respond to reports of non-violent incidents in St. Petersburg until at least next year.

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin clarified the timeline and funding for the St. Petersburg Police Department’s Community Assistance Liaison program during a city budget hearing Thursday night. After the hearing, the City Council adopted the city’s $671 million operating budget and $99.4 million capital expense budget for fiscal year 2021, which starts Oct. 1.

The budget includes $11.4 million for what Mayor Rick Kriseman said is one of his top priorities, affordable housing. About $600,000 of that is in the general fund, Tomalin said. The rest of the money for affordable housing is included in the capital improvements budget, the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area budget, funding from the federal CARES Act, and other sources, she said.

The Community Liaison Program, dubbed CAL, is a pilot program that will augment the police department by retaining a social service agency to respond to non-violent calls for service. That could include mental health crisis, intoxicated persons and drug overdoses, disorderly juveniles, panhandling, homeless complaints and neighborhood disputes.

Related: Just Getting Started: Public safety and the police

During a budget hearing two weeks ago, about 20 people spoke up in support of the new police program but said it was underfunded.

Tomalin responded to those comments on Thursday night, saying there was some confusion about the timing and funding for the program. Here’s the estimated timeline she laid out:

• Oct. 1: St. Petersburg will issue a request for proposals from outside agencies that can staff the CAL program with social service workers and healthcare professionals.

• Nov. 1: Due date for RFP responses.

• November-December: Evaluations, presentations and negotiations and a vendor selected

• January 2021: Contract will come to City Council for approval

Implementation will take several months. Initially, CAL staff will be embedded with police officers. After about three months, if the program is successful, Phase Two will have the CAL staff meeting officers at a designated location for a joint response.

“After several successful months of Phase Two, the CAL team will respond directly to specific calls that have been screened,” Tomalin said. “Safety will always be the police department’s No. 1 priority.”

Fiscal year 2021 will include $850,000 for nine months of CAL operations, or the equivalent of $1.1 million on an annualized basis, she said.

Despite Tomalin’s explanation at the beginning of the budget hearing, several people called in to the virtual public hearing to say the CAL program needed additional funding to succeed. Some of those callers cited a police officer-involved shooting in St. Petersburg in August in which a man died. The state attorney’s office said the shooting was justifiable homicide and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the shooting, said it was lawful, but a report released Wednesday by the sheriff’s office said police should have handled the incident as a mental health call and not a criminal matter.

Many of the callers also asked for more money to be set aside for affordable housing programs, and one of the callers, who identified herself as Hannah Tweet, said there were bigger issues involved.

St. Petersburg City Council member Amy Foster

“The struggle over the budget is about a broader struggle for racial justice and reconciliation in St. Petersburg. You have the choice to be a part of it or hold it back,” Tweet said.

Housing and policing are linked, said City Council member Amy Foster.

“There’s definitely a nexus between the two. We have a lot of folks who are unhoused in our community who have interactions with police because of mental health or substance abuse or other issues. That tsunami is coming. It’s only going to get worse,” Foster said.

Foster and several other Council members said they wanted to keep a close eye on both issues and provide additional funding as needed.

In addition to the FY 2021 budget, the council also approved a five-year capital improvements program totaling $666.5 million, and retained the 6.755 millage rate from this year for the upcoming year. The millage rate determines property taxes paid by property owners. Although the millage rate is not changing for the upcoming year, the city expects to collect an additional $13.1 million from property taxes in FY 2021, because property values have increased 9.44 percent citywide.

The FY 2021 budget increases water, stormwater and sanitation rates. It provides about $3.1 million for new city funding for sustainability and resiliency initiatives, and a salary increase for city workers.

Complete budget details are here.

1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Rose Smith-Hayes

    September 19, 2020at8:53 am

    This initiative is greatly needed. However, I believe there is great need for training the Social Worker and the Police for this type situation dealing with a violent or non violent Mentally ill person or an Addict that needs assistance. Hopefully less killing will be done.

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