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Social media responds to St. Pete Police’s hiring of social workers for non-violent calls

Jaymi Butler



St. Pete Police
Grant money that would have gone to hiring new officers will instead fund a team of social workers who will respond to non-violent calls. Some people love the idea. Others, not so much.

On July 9, the St. Petersburg Police Department announced plans to send community and social service professionals instead of uniformed police officers on some non-violent service calls beginning Oct. 1. Twitter has been buzzing ever since, with mixed reactions to the announcement.

Some residents are supportive of the police department’s decision to give up a $3.125 million federal grant that was originally slated to cover the salaries of 25 new officers. The Catalyst first reported on the topic after a July 9 press conference.


The department also announced it will use $3.8 million in city funds that had been earmarked to match the grant to retain a social service agency to respond to non-violent calls for service from the public. That’s concerning to some residents who worry these calls could quickly get out of hand.

Since the death of George Floyd in late May, many residents have taken to the streets to advocate for new non-violent approaches to policing and the reallocation of funding to the police. “Our citizens are asking for change,” St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway said. “The city of St. Petersburg and the police department are ready for that change.”

Under the new plan, the police department will create the Community Assistance Liaison division. CAL team members will be in plainclothes and will not be armed, Holloway said. They will respond to nearly a dozen types of non-violent calls, including mental health and suicide crisies, intoxicated persons and drug overdoses, disorderly juveniles, panhandling, homeless complaints and neighborhood disputes. For those who are worried about how the decision could impact their safety, the change isn’t a welcome one.

Other changes include increased training on how to de-escalate threatening situations and how to avoid the use of weapons. The department plans to evaluate all its equipment, from body cameras to gun belts, and it also will review policies, including its use of force policy and policies designed to prevent racial profiling, as well as monitoring calls for service.

Between 18 and 20 people will be on the CAL team, Holloway said, and they will work from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. The police department will evaluate if the new approach is successful after monitoring it for a year.

With CAL handling the nonviolent calls, Holloway is hopeful that police officers will have more time to connect with residents and have more meaningful conversations.

Mayor Rick Kriseman called the move an effort to “reimagine the police department,” and both Holloway and Kriseman said they want to work with the community to move forward with the changes. It’s a good first step, but some people think it’s only the beginning of a much longer journey.

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