St. Petersburg Police Department Announces Significant Change in Police Response with Community Assistance Liaison

With St. Petersburg police announcing Thursday it will change the way it responds to certain 911 calls, community members say it’s a good first step toward change in policing.

The St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) announced Thursday July 9, 2020 a “Significant Change in Police Response” that involves a new police department division known as the Community Assistance Liaison. 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, according to SPPD.

The Florida city’s police department is scheduled to begin on October 1, 2020 sending employees from its newly created Community Assistance Liaison (CAL) division, which officials described as “a social service agency.” The Community Assistance Liaison employees will respond to 911 calls involving a number of issues, including drug overdoses, disorderly intoxications, suicide crises and panhandling, according to a SPPD 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, 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Chief 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.”

— Chief of Police Anthony Holloway

St. Petersburg officials have ordered the reallocation of $3.1 million in federal grant money and $3.8 million in earmarked city funding to the new program. The grant money was initially intended to pay for the hiring of 25 more police officers for the police department.

The police 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.

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

Holloway explained that the median age of police officers on the force is 25 and most police officers 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 calls to 911 in 2019, the St. Petersburg Police Department responded to an estimated 12,700 calls for help regarding mental health issues, according to SPPD.

Holloway also said the department is examining its use of force policy and how complaints are handled. The police department is 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.”

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

Mayor Rick Kriseman — a member of the Democratic Party — and Police Chief Anthony Holloway were present at the press conference Thursday.

The mayor of St. Petersburg along with the chief of police announced a new plan to “re-imagine” the department (ABC Action News).

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