Florida police department will not send cops to non-violent calls

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St. Petersburg police officers will no longer respond to non-violent 911 calls, such as quality-of-life complaints or mental health concerns, amid nationwide calls for budget cuts and policing changes, the agency announced.

The Florida city’s police department will instead send employees from its newly created Community Assistance Liaison division, which officials described as “a social service agency." They will respond to 911 calls pertaining to a number of issues, including drug overdoses, disorderly intoxications, suicide crises and panhandling, the department said in a Thursday press release.

“Change is coming to St. Pete Police Department,” said Chief of Police Anthony Holloway during a Thursday press conference, referencing the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, a Black man, died after a White police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

Holloway said the police department spoke with faith and community groups,  protesters and union officials, in the wake of Floyd’s death. 

“After all those conversations, we had one common goal. That common goal is very simple: Our citizen is asking for change. The City of St. Petersburg and the police department is ready for that change.”

City officials have, in turn, ordered the reallocation of $3.1 million in federal grant money and $3.8 million in earmarked city funding to the new program, according to the release. The funds initially were intended to pay for the hiring of 25 more police officers for the department.

According to the press release, CAL officers will respond to the following calls:

  • Intoxicated individuals
  • Mental health crises
  • Drug overdose
  • Disorderly intoxication
  • Suicide crises
  • Homeless complaints and panhandling
  • Neighborhood disputes
  • Truancy, or disorderly minors
  • Disorderly juveniles at elementary schools

The program is slated to begin Oct. 1.

Holloway explained that the median age of police officers on the force is 25 and most don’t even have children, “but we’re asked sometimes to help someone raise their kid.”

As for mental health calls, Holloway said, the officers don’t have enough training in the area and are not experts on those types of issues.

Out of the 259,800 911 calls in 2019, the St. Petersburg Police Department responded to an estimated 12,700 calls for help regarding those issues, the department said.

On Thursday, Holloway also said the department is examining its use of force policy and how complaints are handled. It's monitoring calls to determine whether or not to respond at all.

“Believe it or not, we still get some calls about, ‘there’s an African American male sitting in the park, he doesn’t look like us,’” the police chief said during the press conference. “We’re not coming to those calls. If that person, he or she, is not committing a crime, we’re not going to that.”

He detailed additional training for the department, doubling de-escalation and self-defense training from one to two times per year.

The department also requires civilian members to receive “Fair and Impartial Policing” training, which its sworn officers already receive. A civilian member from a local advocacy or faith group will be added to the police department’s hiring board.

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