Categories: Thrive

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

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.

Jaymi Butler

Jaymi Butler began her writing career as a newspaper reporter in Savannah, Georgia. Her adventures continued in South Carolina and finally brought her back to her home state of Florida. When she’s not writing or playing word games on her phone, Jaymi can probably be found horseback riding, checking out new restaurants, and spending time with her family, friends, and any dog that happens to be nearby.

View Comments

  • As a medical social worker who already goes into the worst neighborhoods in our state, let's see how many will apply for this job. It is hard getting social workers to work these jobs already, even in the medical field. We all pray everyday we make it home. We are only allowed to have pepper spray. We are there to help children and people with medical conditions and we are harrassed, followed, cursed, tires are flattened, windows broken, and I have been touched inappropriately while getting in my car. We pray everyday for our safety but continue to do it because we are called to help people. We go to bed at night scared we might not make it home the next day. This is going to end poorly, bit at least it looks good on paper.

  • I can’t believe what is happening to St Pete. I was about to start looking for a home to buy but I can’t get out fast enough. Seriously, social workers taking on some of the most volatile situations/calls?! Jesus 🤯 Good luck with that.

  • Mental health and suicide crises, intoxicated persons, drug overdoses, domestic and neighborhood disputes can turn into a violent situation within seconds. What then? Domestics usually flare up in the evenings and at night, when social workers are soundly asleep. What then?

  • What a bad idea. When Kriseman and Holloway get the first(of many) calls about the social workers getting yelled at, possibly beaten and even worse shot I hope they get real and end this stupidity. People do not call 911 lightly. There is a problem that causes them to call. What is wanted by the caller is a uniformed officer to respond and deescalate the situation. Not some citizen who shows up in a personal vehicle, wearing civilian clothes and full of talk. The person who called 911 is probably very fearful of the other party who is in an emotionally fragile situation and probably making threats to them. The reality is a police car and uniformed officer represent safety to the caller. Not a social worker. Giving up 3.1 million dollars for an additional 25 officers is incredibly stupid. Right now all over the country and here in St Pete crime has gone up. Shootings, car jacking, robberies and break in's are on the rise because police now fear to confront people in certain situations so to keep from losing their jobs. You need to get real and hire the 25 new officers and give all the officers better training.

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