Community Assistance Liaison program in St. Petersburg

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Gadfly continues his attempt to look at some Public Safety “reform” measures as we approach our Public Safety Committee meeting with our Police Department August 11.

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St. Petersburg turned down a multi-million dollar grant to hire 25 police officers and instead hired social workers, creating a new social services division between the City and the Police department.

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Beau Zimmer and Madison Alworth, “Change is coming to the St. Petersburg Police Department.” Tampa Bay10, July 9, 2020. video

Skyla Luckey, “St. Pete Police Add Community Program To Handle Non-Violent Calls.” Patch, July 13, 2020.

Margie Manning, “St. Pete police chief defends Community Liaison program, says department hopes to keep federal grant.” Catalyst. July 24, 2020.

Clips from the news articles:

“The city announced it would divert funds away from hiring new officers and instead bring on unarmed social workers to handle non-violent calls.”

“Among the biggest announcements, reallocating over $3 million set aside for hiring 25 new police officers and instead using that money to create a new team of non-armed social workers that will deploy across the city to handle many of  St. Pete’s non-violent calls involving homelessness, mental illness, and truancy. “They will be in plain clothes, maybe a polo shirt and jeans or something like that,” said Holloway.  “They are a social worker to go out there and handle that call.”

“The chief  . . . added it would also reduce pressure on patrol officers who respond to between 12,000 and 14,000 non-violent calls a year. “They’ll be under Chief Gilliam, but they will not have a radio, they won’t have guns,” said Holloway. The Chief says an outside firm that specializes in mental health will be hired to run the unit under the police department’s lead.  The unit will be nick named “CAL” for Community Assistance Liaison and will be made up of 18-20 members spread out across the city responding to calls between 6 a.m. and 2 a.m., 20 hours a day.”

Planned change includes:

  • Increase de-escalation training from the current one time a year, to two times a year formal training and informal training with simulator
  • Increase self-defense tactics training from the current one time a year to two times a year so that officers have more options than reaching for weapons
  • Fair & impartial policing training for civilian employees of the police department (sworn officers already receive this training annually.)
  • Additional training for recruits. Recruits already receive cultural competency training with community members. They will also have to return after a year for additional training on cultural competency.
  • Add a civilian to their hiring board. The civilian will come from NAACP, Urban League, Faith Leaders and Leadership St. Petersburg.
  • Park, Walk, and Talks (when officers park their patrol cars and walk the areas they patrol to get to know the people they serve) will go from 1 hour per week, to 2 hours per.
  • Comprehensive review to look for ways to improve: Use of Force policy, how complaints are processed, who they are arresting and why and monitor calls that are based on race only.
“Questions remain as this program moves from theory to practice. Holloway said that social workers would be responding to nonviolent calls, but what happens when a seemingly innocuous call turns violent? How will social workers call for back-up? Will the fact that they are unarmed serve as more of a weakness than a strength?”

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