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.
I think this approach – which seems to be gaining some traction around the country – is really promising. Thanks for your leadership, @Kriseman and cc: @MayorKeller. #NewDEALers https://t.co/wpjGVrlydH
— debbiecoxbultan (@debbiecoxbultan) July 10, 2020
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.
As a former police dispatcher we were trained to send 2 officers to ANY disturbance call regardless if it was non-violent at the time it was called in. Those calls can turn on a dime. Stupid move, St Pete. Just a matter of time before they regret this decision.
— BWSmith (@JagGator1) July 10, 2020
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.”
Great move by @StPetePD and @Kriseman to rethink how we respond and address non-violent crimes in our city. I’m proud to live in a progressive city that thinks about how best to solve a problem – in this case with social workers.
— Michael Vivio (@mvivio) July 9, 2020
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.
What a shame. Your decision to reimagine your police department has changed my mind about the safety of your city, which was not great to begin with. I will no longer bring family or friends to St. Pete after this reckless decision. Your city has lost a lot paying consumers.
— Meredith Barth (@MeredithBarth10) July 9, 2020
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.
I seriously commend the Tampa and St. Pete police departments both having done an incredible job of implementing change and justice into their departments. Change must start NOW!
— Mikaela (@oldmikdonald15) July 10, 2020
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.
So St. Pete police respond to 12-14k non-violent calls each year, now to be replaced by 25 social workers, operating between 6am-2am. That’s 400-500 calls each per year. I thought ppl were kidding with the ‘911 send a social worker’ thing. Wondering abt unintended consequences. https://t.co/q0JObFkkY2
— Saxophonic (@harpandsax) July 10, 2020
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.
Just wanted to share a small local victory in the bay. St. Pete will start sending social workers to respond to certain nonviolent calls instead of police. Activists have worked tirelessly over the past few weeks.
— 𝔅𝔩𝔞𝔠𝔨 𝔓𝔥𝔦𝔩𝔦𝔭 (@pandarevol) July 9, 2020
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.
I will say, St. Pete Police is making some progress like reallocating funds to social services for nonviolent calls (what most mean by “defund the police”) & community representation, along w/the 8 Can’t Wait policies
A step in the right direction, but more needs to be done tbh
— Choco’s Political Venting Chamber (@FlamingoPol) July 11, 2020