After one of the worst years on record, homicides in St. Petersburg have dropped by nearly 43% through June.
St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway provided a wide-ranging report to city leaders during the Aug. 18 council meeting. In addition to highlighting the precipitous drop in murders, Holloway relayed a significant rise in car thefts and provided updates on community programs and homeless initiatives – including the transfer of money collected through the Power of Change program to another department.
Holloway began his presentation by stating that violent crime for the quarter ending in June is down 10%. The five-year average plummeted by 68%. He also noted that the city recorded nine homicides thus far compared to 20 through June 2021. While the overall crime rate is up by .3% this quarter, Holloway said the five-year average is down 21%.
“It’s down because of several reasons,” explained Holloway. “One, because of the men and women of the police department and the work they’re doing. Two, the community being involved in what we’re doing. Three, this administration; and last but not least, the city council being involved in the community and helping us reduce crime.”
Holloway also addressed recent reports that SPPD failed to use over $9,000 collected by the department’s “Power of Change” donation stations. Residents were encouraged to deposit spare change in machines resembling yellow parking meters throughout the city to help the homeless. SPPD statistics showed that just $515 out of the nearly $3,000 in public funding went towards its stated purpose in 2021, and none this year.
Holloway said the department formed partnerships rather than spending the money.
“When you think about that $9,000 that we didn’t use,” said Holloway. “We didn’t use it – but it’s going to go back.”
Following last year’s outburst of gun violence, Holloway said he tasked his assistant chief to explore solutions. They created a special investigation team consisting of five detectives who respond within 48 hours to any cases involving firearms.
Through its partnership with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the SPPD was also able to procure a machine that traces shell casings back to specific weapons. Six homicides occurred last quarter, and the SPPD closed them all.
“So, these cases are not sitting anymore,” said Holloway. “When they’re just shooting, it gets assigned to a detective, and he or she will follow up.”
The most significant crime increase in the city involves car thefts. Holloway noted the department recently participated in a national TV segment that describes the ease with which thieves can steal cars made by Kia and Hyundai.
Holloway said that residents reported 19 Hyundais stolen between April and June. According to the latest statistics for July, that number jumped to 39.
While those vehicles are notoriously easy to break into, and Holloway said YouTube and social media provide helpful information for criminals, he noted that 85% of car thefts still involve owners leaving keys inside the vehicle.
Use of force incidents have increased compared to last year, but the chief told councilmembers the SPPD received no related citizen complaints – including from outside organizations – and 88 commendations.
Holloway said he appreciated the reports that showed his department failed to spend the money collected by the Power of Change (POC) machines, as it allowed him the opportunity to highlight the success of other programs.
The SPPD nearly doubled the number of homeless contacts, referrals and transports through its Police Assisting the Homeless (PATH) initiative compared to April through June of 2021 – from 369 to 724. However, statistics show the number of families assisted dropped from 33 to seven in the respective quarters.
Holloway explained that after the onset of the pandemic in 2019, the city administration decided to transfer the POC money to the PATH team. He also said that the community affairs department could use the funding to bolster other partnerships, including one with St. Anthony’s Hospital, where an officer takes a nurse practitioner to assist the homeless with medical needs.
Councilmember Richie Floyd later asked who would oversee the funding collected by the POC initiative. Tom Greene, assistant city administrator, noted that conversations with Holloway regarding the program’s transition to another department’s purview began in February before reports showed the SPPD declined to use the money.
“My understanding is that we’re adding to that team in the Veterans Social Services Division to help us address additional outreach and opportunities,” said Greene. “Those resources will be available and will be deployed through that division.”
Holloway added that those conversations began earlier this year because the department realized that in light of the other programs’ success, it did not need the money.
Holloway told council members that the department has increased coverage of its “Park, Walk & Talk” program, and the Community Assistance and Life Liaison (CALL) program handled 966 contacts throughout the quarter – with no injuries or violent incidents.
The CALL program sends social workers and mental health professionals to non-violent and non-criminal incidents instead of officers. Holloway relayed that the SPPD recently won an award from the Florida Police Chiefs Association for its effectiveness.
Councilmember Lisset Hanecwicz credited Holloway for bolstering Park, Walk & Talk efforts by 20% and PATH contacts by 248%. The chef said that was due to an increase in the city’s homeless population and officers making more contacts as the city emerges from the pandemic.
“They’re making contact with people every day and trying to help those people that need help,” said Holloway. “We could all be in that same situation.”